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?”
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.