Are Hospital Parking Fees a Health Issue?

When his father suffered a life-threatening illness, Dr. Brian Goldman, veteran ER physician and medical broadcaster, spent three weeks visiting him in three different Ontario hospitals. The care was excellent, but the parking tab was nearly enough to send him into cardiac arrest: more than $500.

That made him wonder about other Canadians’ experiences. When he asked for stories, he was inundated with e-mails, calls and blog posts. So he recorded a program called†“Park Your Frustration” for his weekly White Coat, Black Art show on CBC radio.

Parking Problems Add to Hospital Stress

Dozens of people complained about troubles finding a spot, problems paying and annoying rules and procedures. Goldman said the complaints had one common thread: “They made you feel like the hospital didnít care about you.”

The biggest issue was cost. At a time when people are most vulnerable and need the support of family and friends, many hospitals add high parking fees to an already stressful experience. Goldman pointed out,

“Let’s not forget that with hospital cutbacks, loved ones and friends are taking on an increased burden of care of hospitalized patients,” he said, noting family members often feed loved ones, take them for walks, help with physiotherapy and perform other unpaid duties.

“The idea that hospitals don’t give a break on parking fees to those individuals is unfair.”

In the broadcast, one nurse pointed out that mall parking is free and added, “What does that say about society?”

Parking Lot Horror Stories

Joanne, a registered nurse in Ontario, received a call that her father was dying. She had just gone home after a visit but turned around and sped back to the hospital. She and her mother stayed at his bedside until her father died. When they went out to the parking lot, they both found three expensive tickets tucked under their windshield wipers. Joanne took the tickets into the hospital. Through tears, she told her story and asked for a break. The response was, “Tough luck, lady. You should have come down and put more money in the meter.” Later, when she went to city hall and threw them on the mayorís desk, the tickets quietly disappeared, but the callousness of the hospital staff member still rankles.

Laura wrote that she has to go to her hospital for regular treatments. Her county has no public transportation or taxi service. The city charges $0.30/hour for parking. The hospital charges $3.00/hour or $20.00/day. She writes, “I understand supporting my hospital but lately I feel like Iím funding my hospital.”

Matt spent fifteen minutes driving around a full hospital parking lot in Halifax and then had to pay $3 to get out. He ended up parking illegally at a grocery store, where the $15 ticket was less than legitimate parking would have cost him.

CMAJ Calls for Abolishing Hospital Parking Fees

In an editorial in the most recent Canadian Medial Association Journal, editor in chief Dr. Rajendra Kale admonishes that parking fees interfere with patient/doctor interactions. He writes:

Almost every hospital doctor in Canada would be able to narrate anecdotes of patients being preoccupied with parking fees. Such distraction interferes with the clinical consultation. For example, some patients (who have often waited several weeks to see a doctor) try to end a consultation abruptly when they realize that they will have to pay for an additional hour for parking. This is parking-centred health care, which is not compatible with patient-centred health care.

Kale cites the 2008 decision that abolished parking fees at NHS hospitals in Scotland. The change was made on compassionate grounds and affirmed the country’s principle of universal access to health care. Shortly afterward, Wales made the same change, for similar reasons.

Arguing for ending the practice of charging for parking at Canadian hospitals, Kale writes,

Those opposed to scrapping parking fees for patients need to recognize that such fees are, for all practical purposes, user fees and a barrier to health care. Using revenue generated from such surrogate user fees for health care is against the health policy objective of the Canada Health Act and could become the subject of a legal challenge.

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First photo from bkornprobst via morgueFile; second photo from Arnold C via Wikimedia Commons

46 comments

Chloe M.
Chloe M.4 years ago

All these paid parking lot schemes are a racket!

Kiefer T.
Kiefer T.5 years ago

i work as a delivery driver for a sandwich shop near a big medical center consisting of tons of hospitals and specialists. all day i have to park in parking garages and lots that charge you by the time you spent parked there. it always saddens me when im driving out of the cancer centers parking lot, seeing all these sick people having to dig around for yet more money to pay to just leave the parking lot...so sad

Rose Balcom
Rose Balcom5 years ago

Hospital parking fees suck!

Blaine C.
Blaine C.5 years ago

At some hospitals, it is a private company that is looking after the parking. Most of the revenue is not even going to the hospital.

Matilda H.
Past Member 5 years ago

I agree that patients shouldn't have to worry about parking fees, but charging money for parking is completely normal, so it's not really that weird or anything that they do it. But, maybe there should be a special free parking for patients and a normal parking with a reasonable fee for visitors and such or something?

Patricia Schoenberger
Patricia S.5 years ago

I have many health problems, and go to the doctor/hospital several times a month, often 2-3 times in one week. Repeatedly, I have had to reschedule appointments with my cardiologist, family practice doctor, etc. because I didn't have money to pay for parking. It's reprehensible.

Sue Matheson
Sue Matheson5 years ago

thanks

Nancy L.
Nancy L.5 years ago

Thanks for posting.

Lorri Mechem
L m5 years ago

Up until 2008, I worked at a hospital in Arlington Virginia. The hospital had recently built a new hospital tower on the old employee's parking lot. For a time, there was talk that employees were going to be charged to park in the new underground parking garage. The fees being proposed were not insignificant. The idea was scrapped after much protest. It is, however, not uncommon for hospitals to charge their employees to park. Most of the Washington, DC hospitals do routinely. Hospitals are nothing more now than businesses that care more about their bottom line than the welfare of either their employees or their patients. They literally almost killed me when I was forced out of my job along with 55 other Emergency Department employees (all RN's except 3. ) A new manager was hired with the apparent goal of eliminating the older, higher paid employees. I was so stressed out by the whole thing and the ramifications of losing my job that I was having major heart palpitations and had to seek medical care for same. I never was able to find another job and am, technically, still unemployed which I suspect is a result of my age - 58. Age discrimination - Illegal but happens every day. My opinion of hospitals in general and medicine as it is practiced in this country is very low. We need a national health program.

Lorri Mechem
L m5 years ago

Up until 2008, I worked at a hospital in Arlington Virginia. The hospital had recently built a new hospital tower on the old employee's parking lot. For a time, there was talk that employees were going to be charged to park in the new underground parking garage. The fees being proposed were not insignificant. The idea was scrapped after much protest. It is, however, not uncommon for hospitals to charge their employees to park. Most of the Washington, DC hospitals do routinely. Hospitals are nothing more now than businesses that care more about their bottom line than the welfare of either their employees or their patients. They literally almost killed me when I was forced out of my job along with 55 other Emergency Department employees (all RN's except 3. ) A new manager was hired with the apparent goal of eliminating the older, higher paid employees. I was so stressed out by the whole thing and the ramifications of losing my job that I was having major heart palpitations and had to seek medical care for same. I never was able to find another job and am, technically, still unemployed which I suspect is a result of my age - 58. Age discrimination - Illegal but happens every day. My opinion of hospitals in general and medicine as it is practiced in this country is very low. We need a national health program.