Hospital parking fees 'barrier to health care'

Canadian Medical Association journal urges an end to charges

An editorial in the Canadian Medical Association Journal may be winning fans with patients, but the head of parking for Interior Health says parking fees are a vital source of funds that help protect patient care.

On Monday, the journal called on hospitals to stop charging patients for parking.

The editorial says parking charges are a health-care user fee in disguise.
Written by Dr. Rajendra Kale, it notes that both Wales and Scotland have abolished parking fees for patients.

Kale says patients sometimes end appointments before all the work is done because they are afraid their meter or pre-paid parking sticker is about to expire.

"I disagree with this position," said Jon Acorn, manager of parking services for Interior Health. "I think there is a valid and good reason to have paid parking in health care. It helps us protect health-care budgets."

At Royal Inland Hospital, the revenue collected from parking fees amounts to $1.2 million per year.

While there is no way to distinguish how much of that money comes from actual patients, as opposed to visitors, Acorn said the system can't afford to lose any of it.

"Without paid parking revenues, then we have to use health-care budgets to support and provide and maintain our parking," said Acorn.

"And that means that's something we can't provide for patient care."

Kale, a neurologist at the Ottawa Hospital, suggested in his editorial that charging for parking runs counter to the Canada Health Act, which guarantees access to care without financial barriers.

"This is a barrier to health care," Kale said. "This is anxiety and stress and grief that we can get rid of. That's my main reason for writing this."

Kamloops patients contacted by The Daily News agreed with him.

"To me, it's absolute cruelty," said Rose Bourdin, who collected close to 1,000 signatures earlier this year with a petition for free parking for the hospital's emergency admitting area. She took the petition to the Thompson-Nicola regional hospital board.

Bourdin wasn't surprised by Kale's comment about the Canada Health Act.

"We say it's fraud," Bourdin said. "I even said that to (the board). "This is not legal. They're gouging."

Bourdin remembers the old system, whereby visitors would obtain a temporary parking pass from the emergency department. She hopes Interior Health Authority takes note of the editorial.

"The sooner they get it fixed, the better. That would make me feel so good."

Sally Holte was also upset by the parking situation.

"When you go into chemo, you're not 100 per cent and it's easy for your stress level to increase," she said.

At Kelowna General Hospital, where she underwent treatment, they charge only $3 a month and there is plenty of parking available, Holte said. She was glad to hear that the issue has been raised by the Canadian Medical Association.

"I'm quite happy to hear that because something will have to be done," Holte said.

But Tom Closson, CEO of the Ontario Hospital Association, told The Canadian Press that Kale's comment about the Canada Health Act was unfounded.

He rhymed off the items the Canada Health Act specifies that patients cannot be charged for. Parking was not on the list.

"I think it's absurd that they would waste space in their magazine for this editorial," said Closson.

"I think that the Canadian Medical Association Journal should be focusing on things that are a lot more important in health care. I think what they're focusing on here is very minor at a time when there are many people in this country that are having trouble getting access to primary care."

The CBC Radio medicine show White Coat, Black Art looked at the issue in a recent episode inspired by the parking fees host Dr. Brian Goldman paid when his father was hospitalized for three weeks last summer.

Goldman, an emergency department doctor in Toronto, said he shelled out more than $500 for parking when visiting his father.

Goldman said the show garnered more listener response than any other show in the series, except one on how health care fails women who have trouble breastfeeding.

"It just resonated right across the country," said Goldman. "Everybody's got a hospital parking story."

CLARIFICATION: Some information in this story is no longer accurate. A patient who underwent chemotherapy at Kelowna General Hospital did pay only $3 at the time to park for a month, but rates went up in June to $53 for a one-month pass.

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