WHEN CAMPBELL RIVER’S brand new hospital is unveiled today (Sunday, Sept. 10, 2017), one of the planned features will be missing: pay parking.
Ditto for the new hospital in Courtenay when it opens Oct. 1.
In both cases, Island Health was tripped up by the local municipal councils, which voted this spring to bar the hospitals from charging for parking. Rather than fight, the health authority has announced there will be no fees at either campus of North Island Hospital.
Which raises the obvious question: if parkers there don’t have to pay, why should people at Island Health’s other facilities?
This is one of those topics that makes people’s lips curl. To many, being made to pay to park at St. Elsewhere is like having salt rubbed in a wound even as it’s being stitched up.
“No one wants to be at a hospital; I have always thought that it is incredibly cruel to add more stress by charging people money to be there,” wrote Victoria reader Jillian Smyth after this spring’s dust-up.
Shuttling between bedside and parking kiosk, or finding a free alternative, just adds to the pressure. Smyth recalled the days when her two kids were in B.C. Children’s Hospital in Vancouver: “We were young parents with very little money. It was extremely hard paying for parking. I parked on Granville Street when I could, but the times to park on Granville were very limited and then they towed the cars away. I would come out 10 minutes before the posted time and my car would already be hooked up to the tow truck.
“You can imagine how hard it was to be beside your sick child all night, only to find your car towed away in the morning. My good friend’s daughter died one night at Children’s Hospital and she came out to find her car towed away.”
The counter-argument is that parking fees free up more money for medical care — pacemakers, not pavement. In Island Health’s case, it collected $7.7 million from parking fees in 2015-16. That more than covered the $3 million it paid to maintain the pay lots, including $1 million to Robbins, the contractor hired to police them. If $7.7 million is just a tiny fraction of the health authority’s $2.3 billion annual budget, it still represents a lot of knee replacements and CAT scans.
There’s also the argument that fees stop people who have no connection to a hospital (those who work near Royal Jubilee, say) from hogging the free parking.
This cat-and-mouse game can get complicated, though. Last year, after word spread that Courtenay’s new hospital would charge for parking, neighbouring North Island College — fearing that its free lot would be flooded by hospital users — launched a pay-parking scheme of its own. Now that Island Health has backed away from fees, the shoe is on the other foot: the hospital has to worry about its spaces being filled by college students. The college board will ponder the future of pay parking Sept. 28.
The genesis of the up-Island fight is the status quo. While visitors to Victoria General, the Jubilee, Saan Pen and the Nanaimo hospital are used to paying for parking, those in Duncan, Port Alberni and Campbell River are not.
When Island Health, in keeping with a policy to implement pay parking at all new hospitals, said fees would be introduced at the new 95-bed campus of North Island Hospital Campbell River and District (ain’t that a mouthful?) the municipal council balked.
So did the council in Courtenay, even though St. Joseph’s, the Comox facility whose acute-care functions are shifting to the 153-bed North Island Hospital Comox Valley this fall, has charged for parking since 2010.
On Sept. 1, Island Health announced the no-fee forces had won. “Many considerations were taken into account as part of the decision including our patient and family centred care focus, cost sustainability, a consistent parking approach across both campuses, and community feedback,” it said.
Let’s not forget the big picture, either. Comox Valley residents will get an expanded emergency room, surgical care space and University of B.C. academic teaching space, says Island Health. Campbell River’s campus includes “larger single-patient rooms with more private space for patients and their families, a larger emergency department and a bigger maternity ward, with two large birthing rooms to accommodate extended family.”
All that and free parking, too.
© Copyright Times Colonist
Jack Knox is a born-and-raised Kamloops lad who once worked at the Kamloops Daily News. He is now a columnist with the Victoria Times Colonist. Since joining the Times Colonist in 1988, Jack has worked as a copy editor, city editor, editorial writer and editorial page editor. Prior to that he was an editor and reporter at newspapers in Campbell River, Regina and Kamloops. He won the Jack Webster Foundation’s City Mike Award for Commentator of the Year in 2015.