Park Your Frustration Mailbag

Last month, we devoted an entire episode to the trials and tribulations of patients, visitors, employees and other people who use hospital parking.  This was one of our most popular and most contentious shows ever.  You deluged us with many emails, posts to our blog and our Facebook page and our vox box.  To read your reaction, click on the link below.

Many of you wanted to share your own stories about everything from the cost of parking to the sheer frustration of looking for a decent parking spot.

Carol MacNeil of Thunder Bay writes:  "I really enjoyed the discussion about "parking" as an issue in the medical world. This week I went to two doctor's appointments in two different clinics.   I wish that the doctors involved with these clinics sat in their own waiting rooms and experienced what the patient experiences.   In both clinics I went to there was a distinct lack of privacy as I waited for the receptionist (?) to finally look up at me. I have to announce my business before all of the other patients  The offices were piled with patient files that were available to the casual passer-by and the phones were ringing off the hook. The waiting rooms themselves were grungy and dirty. Upholstery looked like it hadn't been cleaned or repaired in decades. It was stained and ripped and I felt like it harboured the plague. The magazines, toys and books left out for those waiting looked like they originated in the fifties and I'm sure were the source of disease.  I really like my doctors but waiting for my appointments is an ordeal. My friends who go to other clinics say the same thing about their waiting rooms. Surely doctors make enough to ensure  their offices are more respectful of privacy, dignity and cleanliness for the patients."

Tricia Horsman of Fall River, Nova Scotia sent this email:  "I found your topic on parking today an important discussion on what at first seems like a frivolous issue but can be quite an expense to some. I am a mother of a child with a partial 13 q deletion and global developmental delays among other health issues. Our visits to the local children's hospital occur on a regular basis for  retinal EUAs (he has RB1 deletion), physio, OT, hearing  (has mod hearing loss and hearing aids), ST, developmental clinic, etc....I would not want to add up how much I have paid to park (not to mention it is virtually impossible to maintain a full time job while keeping appointments so I work part time) over the last 3 years. Plus the  parking ticket when he had to be rushed to a hospital 3 hours away after a routine hernia repair resulted in bowel  entrapment .... imagine we forgot about "feeding the meter" when we realized how sick  he was.  Families of those with chronic illnesses and disorders incur a lot of additional financial expenses and losses. I have yet to hear of any hospital that offers discounted parking on a compassionate basis for those who require regular ongoing outpatient care. Instead I feel like I am paying  for a fee for service system masked as expensive parking."

Diane Kinney of Mississauga, Ontario writes:  "Listening to your stow today brought me back to the week my Dad passed away in January 2010. After spending the "night shift" with Dad in ER, I left around 9:00 am to get my Mom. In bringing her back there was no stopping/parking to drop her off. It had snowed and Mom being 86 at the time, needed help to get into the hospital. I parked, took her in and returned to my car in less than 10 minutes. I found a $30 ticket as I was in an area where parking is not permitted before 10 am. It was around 9:45. When I approached the parking authority ( a few cars ahead of me) I was told to go to court if I wanted to fight it. I didn't and paid. Dad passed away later that week.In June when I renewed my license I was told I have a $66 fine outstanding. When I called it was not for the ticket I had paid but one issued the next day. I had no ticket on my car so I was completely unaware. Nor had I received a notice of an outstanding fine. When I questioned it I was told it was too late as I had paid to renew my license and this was an admission of guilt. So I couldn't fight it even if I wanted to nor could I find out what the original ticket was for. All this occurred while the parking structure at St. Joseph's was under renovation and half the street blocked during construction of the new Mercy wing. Parking was severely reduced.
The City of Toronto garners huge revenues from parking fines and targets hospital areas. Families do not need more stress at times when a loved one is ill. If there is insufficient parking due to construction/snow banks/garage renovations have a little compassion.
As the woman on your show wrote, are you going to leave your loved one's side near the end of life to "feed the meter"? Thanks for letting me vent."

Caroline Yull of Kingston, Ontario writes:  "In the middle of my three years at Queen's Law School as a mature student, I learned, along with my late partner, Llew, that he had advanced colon cancer.  Because we lived out of town then, I had a Queen's parking pass, which entitled me to park in any Queen's lot.  The hospital is boundaried on almost all of three sides by Queen's, and on the other by the lake.  So, in the middle of winter, 1998/99, I would find myself, having picked up our then-three year old daughter from Queen's daycare and driving the short distance (just too far to walk for her little legs at the end of the day) and start the horrible search for a parking spot.  Remember, this was at the END of the day, when Queen's folks were all heading for home - there should have been scads of parking spots!  But, more often than not, I would end up, circling the hospital searching, eventually with tears pouring down my face, frustrated and stressed beyond belief.  This was a daily experience, and added such an enormous amount of stress and pain to an already-terrible time in our lives.  I have survived, but can never go there without re-visiting the pain and stress it brought me then.   My daughter has survived, too.  My partner, alas, did not survive.  I should point out that this all happened over ten years ago.  Since that time, both Queen's and the hospital have done some major additions to each of their two institutions, not only without adding any parking, but actually using up many of the existing spaces, thus creating an even worse situation.  When my elderly Mum fell and broke her poor hip a year ago, I needed to go every day to bring her food (don't get me started on that!) and just took the bus.  I give up.  Something's got to give, and it isn't me!"

David Towler of Waterloo, Ontario sent this:  "Love your show.  Boy this one hits home!  I'm required to be at a hospital ever 4 months for quarterly checkups.  Each visit is a minimum of 4 hours (due mostly to waiting times between two different departments) and easily 210 minutes of the 240 I spend at the Hospital are minutes that are spent sitting on my butt waiting to be seen.  However, ALL of the 240 minutes are charged by the parking lot and the charges are routinely between $17 and $25 per visit on average.  I'm not visiting someone, I'm the damned PATIENT and I have to drive in from 35 min away.  So in addition to the 4+ hours wasted by sitting around waiting, I spend an additional 70 min just getting there since I don't live in town.  To add insult to injury for all the wated time for what amounts to a 20-30 min consultation at best, I'm charged through the nose for the privilege and I have absolutely NO choice but to pay because I cannot take public transit from within town.  Patients, particularly those who MUST come from out of town, should not be charged for a scheduled appointment that they've no choice but to attend (assuming they wish to remain healthy!).  I can park all day long at the Mall but pay upwards of $3/hour at the bloody hospital.  It's outrageous.  I understand that the hospitals are being pressured from all sides but I'm already paying annual taxes which are supposed to be paying into the healthcare system.  It shouldn't cost me an additional $25 each time I go to see my Dr. just to renew a prescription and be seen for 20 min.  It's a total rip off and the charges are not minimal, they're at the same rate or higher than most other Public Parking lots (and even THEY offer a daily maximum charge - but not the bloody hospitals who are apparently content to bleed your wallet dry).  And they wonder why people are pissed off and complain about this constantly?  Go figure!  They're an apparently well-educated and thus, one assumes, intelligent group of people.  Why then, are the parking rules so goddamned stupid and Draconian?"

Evelina Pan of Thunder Bay, Ontario contributed this story:  "This summer my mother had a couple of strokes on top of her pre-existing alzheimer's, so we were in and out of hospital a number of times.  On our first trip to the ER we met a really lovely security guard, Eddie, who, after we had been there for a few days, arranged for us to have free parking.  The maximum fee per day was $20.00, and my sister and I were going separately so we could have the maximum number of hours of someone being with our mom.  It saved us a ton of money, but more importantly, it was the gesture of caring and good will on the part of the lovely Eddie.  There are good people out there.  They pop up most unexpectedly, and are most gratefully appreciated!!!  Thanks."

Kathy Nutford who lives near Moncton, New Brunswick shared this story:  "On Thursday morning, as we approached the hospital to drop my cousin off for some tests, we noticed that the underground parking sign was flashing "Full" and that there was a lineup at the also full above-ground parking lot - not an uncommon thing.  As they got out and I started to pull away, the ad for today's show was playing........"Hospital Parking Hell!"  I had a good laugh as I drove own the street.  Had I needed to  park, though, I wouldn't have been laughing! However, after listening to today's show, I WILL be thankful that we don't pay as much as many others for the privilege!  The Moncton Hospital parking lots have a booth with a real live person in them to take your money for the length of time you're in their lot, and have a daily cap of $5.50 (I think, it might be &7.50, but still not bad).  While it's not free, its a LOT better than many other hospitals!  However, if you're there daily for someone, it adds up.  There used to be (and it could still be in place, but no one in my family has had need of it for a while) a plan available from the office, should you have need of parking daily for a longer period of time."

Rhea Laver contributed this email.  "When we went from Vancouver Island across Canada in 2003 my husband was required to be in hospital in Fredricton N.B.  for a month with emergency surgery and various things.  I lived in our VW van in the parking lot.  I had the hospital cafeteria, security, access to a washroom in Emergency, and even a shower after talking to a social worker.  The  morning after my first night in the lot, I drove out to the guard at the gate and gave him the ticket I had picked up on the way in, and he said "That's no good, it's from yesterday" and he waved me through.  I was there the whole month and paid no parking costs at all.  The doctors, nursing staff, social workers and volunteers were a blessing to me through it all."

Some of you felt Canadians should not take free or even cut rate parking for granted.

Ian Campbell of Grande Prairie, Alberta sent this:  "When the current QEII hospital was being built in 1983 the main entrance was built above the parking lot. The CEO had a chapel put on the basement floor where the elevator was supposed to go, so access was by outdoor stairs. It took a couple of heart attacks on the stairs before the CEO decided that an elevator was required. Still maintaining the need for a chapel, the CEO had the elevator built on the outside of the building, doubling its cost.  Currently the hospital website mentions a parking cost but doesn't give the reader any idea of the cost. The closeness of parking to the entrances is strictly according to protocol, administrative heads and surgeons closest, then doctors, nurses etc.  Other than a limited underground parking area and v limited emergency parking, patients are expected to park the furthest from the entrances. The streets around the hospital required a permit and are for staff. There is a new hospital being built this year,  I doubt the parking will be adequate."

Paul Peters Derry of Winnipeg writes:  "I listed with interest, and then concern with your piece last week on parking fees at hospitals.  As Coordinator of Spiritual Care (Chaplain) at a personal care home in Winnipeg, and having also worked at other hospitals in this health region, I'm keenly aware of the many aspects of healthcare (in both acute and long-term care settings) that have proven track records for adding value to a patient's or resident's care plan, and yet, sadly, receive little or no government funding.  Parking fees are often a way of collecting money for these services.  True, sometimes the dollars collected for parking sometimes go directly into "general revenue."  I know of one healthcare facility where it funds the chaplaincy position, and another facility where it is collected by the hospital's Foundation, and then disbursed to one or more "supplementary" care programs.  Moreover, you missed the mark when you made the comparison with shopping malls where parking is "free."  Which shopping mall allows you to park in its lot without going inside their mall to shop at any number of its stores?  And how else does the mall pay for snow removal of the parking lot?  How are hospitals supposed to pay for that?  Care comes with a cost, and paying it is part of what it means to be a caring society, and caring individuals and families."

Shu Ennis of Burnaby, BC writes:  "In all honesty, while I gripe at having to pay for hospital on-site parking,  I will gladly pay it if I know that the revenues generated from parking go directly to hospital coffers. I balk at paying a private for-profit company like IMPARK etc. That, to me, is SO WRONG!!!!  If hospital parking is so short, while not offer free shuttles to and from the closest public transit (eg mass transit stations)? If shuttles are available every 10-15 minutes or so, won't that ease the parking headaches?  I park on site because of some medical emergency. I will gladly pay. What I want to see is that we don't have to pay until we leave the parking lot. That way, I am not scrambling for change and money while at the same time trying to see my loved ones before it's too late.... or before the person that I am bringing into the hospital becomes worse even before we get in!!!!"

A health care insider whose name we have witheld sent this comment about the charges for hospital parking:  "Hospitals have been compelled to charge for parking as part of their revenue strategies to counteract the fact that in Ontario, the MoHLTC does not pay 100% of operating costs - more in the 80-85%+/- range.  Hospitals get stuck on the revenue treadmill for those things they can actually control - Preferred Accommodation and Parking.  Parking is typically used for "plugging" shortfalls in the total cost planning equation, which generally means increased rates annually.  Chasing that revenue dragon is always fraught with public affair difficulties."

Casimir Galas of Port Credit, Ontario sent this:  "I spent a week in hospital last year and I constantly heard complaints from family and friends about the cost of parking during their visits.  It caused them to shorten their visits, which turned out to be a blessing.  This also translated into hallways being relatively empty when I was out fir my prescribed walks.   My recommendation is that you raise the prices, hospitals are for that sick."

Steven Smith of Stansbury Park, Utah, sent this email:  "I'm sorry to hear these stories about the bad parking situations mentioned on the show. At the Intermountain Health Care facilities in Utah there are large parking terraces or lots, all costing nothing to use. At the larger facilities they even have no cost valet service (no tipping allowed!). As you mentioned when hospitals consider the whole experience of a hospital visit, both as visitor and patient, a good parking experience just makes things a little better for all concerned."

Jennifer Beer of Toronto writes:  "You have to be kidding me. talk about first world problems! i have spent a lot of time in hospitals in the last ten years - having two aging parents, one of whom died after about 3 months in hospital (2 hospitals actually - a small town hospital, and a city hospital), and a son with special needs whose care is followed at 2 hospitals (one a big city downtown hospital, one a suburban hospital). i don't want to think about how much i have spent on hospital parking. but frankly, the parking fees were the least of my problems.  many hospitals use parking as a source of funding for the hospital. some even have signs posted to that effect. the problem is not parking. the problem is that our health system is under-funded and hospitals have to find supplemental funds wherever they can. offering free parking would be a cost that would take dollars away from actual patient treatment."

Some of you wanted to comment on stories in particular.  Mary MacDonald heard our story about the people who park on a street leading into the The Civic Campus of The Ottawa Hospital.  She writes:  "Thank you for your excellent programs that are both informative and reveal your understanding of reality from "our side of the gurney".  Today I listened to your interview with the woman who lives on Ruskin Ave., near the "Ottawa Civic", and her focus on the number of drivers looking for free parking.  I can appreciate her frustration with the volume of traffic flow.  She said that a neighbour had done a quick survey of the hospital parking lots, and found there was room still available in the garages and lots.  Maybe on a weekend....  But her focus on money-saving drivers clouds the issue.   Patients and families who go to the hospital during weekdays cannot find a place to leave their cars in the hospital garages and lots.  Some streets  west of the Civic completely forbid any street parking, on either side during weekdays.  (I'd be happy with parking on one side, accompanied by a machine that charges for the hours to be used.)  Recently I brought an elderly friend to the Civic for her pre-op and then surgery appointments.  In both cases, I knew to drop her at the front door early enough to allow for my parking lot search.  After checking each, and finding all lots full, I parked at a nearby Doctor's Office building, where six hours of parking cost me $28.00!  We were very pleased with all of the treatment we received at the hospital, and calmly accepted a three-hour delay in the surgery.  But, as you pointed out, the parking was the main problem.    Following your suggestion, I will write to the Administration.  I'm not looking for free or cheap... just a place to put the car!"
And, Jane Shoemaker of Coquitlam, BC sent this email: "I was listening to your program today while on the way to Vancouver General Hospital to visit a friend's son.  There are two aspects of the parking situation that weren't mentioned by anyone during the program.  First, the person who lives near a hospital and has to live with hospital visitors using up the parking on her street understandably came down hard on them.  (And so did you).  But from their point of view -- some people just can't afford to pay ten dollars or twenty dollars every time they visit a hospital patient.  Especially if the hospital patient is in for a long time and is a family member  the visitor wants to see daily, the hospital parking fees can quickly become a difficult problem.  Parking a distance away gives the visitor some useful exercise and saves him a lot of money.  The second rather different consideration is that in many cities parking fees are being allowed to climb with the goal of persuading more people to take public transit.  You didn't mention this option during today's program.  Not all hospital visitors are able to take transit, but many could. In many cities of the world parking options are even more limited than ours."

Many of you had a completely different take on our show.  In particular, you felt that we missed what you see as a very immportant part of the story:  why park at the hospital at all?
Alex DeVries of Ottawa writes:  "I'm concerned about your program's blind support for free parking at hospitals. Driving is not a right, it is a cost to all taxpayers. Beyond road maintenance and construction, drivers are less healthy and are a burden to our healthcare system. I think hospitals have a role in encouraging sustainable and healthy transportation.   I quite frequently go a medical office near the Civic Hospital in Ottawa, and the high parking costs made me make a point of biking. There are also several major bus routes that go right past its front entrances.  Free parking for drivers means that the cost is being subsidized by everyone else, something I don't think is fair either."

Loretta of Surrey, BC emailed this long missive:  "Wow!  There was really no thinking outside the box at all in your program today.  Yes, indeed, people arriving for emergencies and visitors of terminally ill patients should be able to access easy to  find, and possibly even free parking, but why is shared  transportation always seen as not suitable?  Why was a shuttle for workers considered to be unacceptable, or why was there no discussion of the location of hospitals and whether they are placed so they are easy to get to by public transportation?  Shift workers should be able to get to and from work easily by the public transportation system and given bus passes as part of their compensation.  Visitors of non-urgent patients should also be able to consider public transit  as a convenient option.  If they choose to take their cars, then they should have to pay for parking.  If we could change the culture of car dependence, then that would free a lot of parking spaces for the ones who really need it. I also have an Ottawa story of a personal nature regarding ambulatory care, which is where your guest suggested the new pressure on parking spaces was coming from.  I had 2 day surgeries which required general anaesthetic done at the Riverside Campus of the Ottawa General Hospital in the early 2000s.  The first one was a knee operation, so my husband did pick me up by car after the procedure, but the second one was of a nature that I could easily walk when I left the hospital, so I took the bus, which stops right in front of the hospital, by myself in the morning.  My husband met me when it was time to leave, and we again used the bus to get home.  It did not cost us anything extra for transportation, since we both already had  monthly bus passes.  There are many ambulatory procedures where patients do not need a private vehicle.  Thus, my political activism will be to urge politicians to improve public transportation.  Ideally, it will become so convenient that people will think of using it first for all their transportation needs.  When we choose to use our cars, we should be charged for the cost of parking them. Then, hopefully, we will look to alternate and  more environmentally sustainable methods of transportation, which means sharing with others."

Gudrun Leys of Victoria sent this:  "I was rather upset at the fact that you spent a whole Saturday health program on the issue of parking. yes Parking! I know that the majority of Canadians have at least one car and feel that it is our right to use it when we feel like it; but, I think you are dealing with a "rich man's problem" and I am very happy that the parking fees are heavy and maybe not even heavy enough. I think that we should tackle the issue differently: we should look at how we can provide good public transit from parking lots removed from the hospitals. If anyone needs to get to the hospital rapidly, take a taxi. We have to learn to live sustainably and hospital parking lots are as good a place to start as any. People who currently do not own a car have to use taxis or public transit and we could all do the same for the public good."

Adi Boon, a 4th year medical student at McGill University in Montreal also felt we put too much emphasis on hospital parking.  "A 28 minute podcast about hospital parking and not one mention of ways to reduce the number of people driving to the hospital, besides off-site employee lots? Get with the times! What about pressuring cities to improve transit access to hospitals, hospital shuttles from the closest metro station or transit point, and providing adequate and secure bike parking and bike lanes in the neighbourhood? Lots of employees, visitors and outpatients are capable of leaving the car behind, if we make it easier for them. There are many parking problems to be solved, but reducing demand should be high on the list. Time to think outside the car, Dr. Brian."

Sandra Gaines of Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario writes:  "Car pool, take public transportation, or walk.  Driving while dealing stress is dangerous.  Taking public transportation gives people time to relax and see that the rest of the world is still moving -- it gives an opportunity to get out of your head.  If your elderly neighbor needs to visit her dying spouse, offer her a ride.  She needs someone to talk to as much as she needs to avoid the stress of hospital parking.  Visiting hours are structured; strike up a conversation with that person you see on the elevator every day.  If you can car pool you may just make a new friend." 

Tom Trottier writes:  "While it is a common attitude to identify oneself with one's car, not everyone has this cumbersome appendage.  For instance , I do not own a car. I bike and bus and taxi.  Biking is healthy and cheap. The bus is slower but you can read on it.  The taxi is fast but can cost.  So if car parking is expensive, bike, bus or taxi to the hospital.  
Ditch your car and bike everywhere and you will be healthier and wealthier, the air will be a little cleaner, climate change can be pushed away a little, and we can eke out our fossil fuels a little longer. Even if you are 65, like me."

Adam Ferland of Edmonton writes:  "I just finished listening to the episode regarding hospital parking, and what seemed to me a rather glaring omission left me aghast. An entire episode dedicated to parking and access, comprising issues of accessibility and affordability and fairness, because everyone, patient or visitor to a patient, deserves that consideration. Everyone, that is, who owns a car.  I was literally gobsmacked that you could put together the entire program without the merest suggestion that anybody might access a hospital by any means other than a private vehicle. I can understand and sympathize with the issues raised on the show, but from my perspective anybody who can't deal with hospital parking is free to hop on a bike or the bus. If that seems like a crude and thoughtless contribution, what does it say that those already relying on such means don't even rate mention of existence on the topic?"

Terrance Keller of Sherbrooke, Quebec writes:  "I believe that this discussion is missing one very important point of view, and that is the question of sustainable development. From this angle, adding more parking spaces is not the answer. Employees should be encouraged with real incentives, for example free public transport to avoid more parking, leaving existing spaces for ambulatory patients and visiting families and friends. A programme like this would not cost the 26 million dollars quoted in your expose. I suggest that you take a look at  the programmes existing in the city of Sherbrooke to see how one city is taking this problem in hand creatively."

Darryl h of Edmonton writes:  "'Free Parking' is oxymoronic as 'Free Health Care' and 'Free Lunch'. Does $30,000 per parking space include the cost of filtering, or not filtering, all the particulates, soot, and irritant/toxic exhast products arising from that space? Whatever the lifetime costs, is more parking spaces really the best possible use of our "health care" budget? Are you and the CMA now advocating an even more sendentary lifestyle? Your 3 or more Parking Spaces Per Bed is an insult to the earth and to our intelligence.

MarySherlock of Vancouver sent this email:  "I was disturbed that you didn't mention sustainable transportation in this  episode.  People visiting those in hospitals (especially in cities) can use public transit and bicycles - which are a much healthier option.  I always ride my bike to the hospital, but bike parking is hard to find.  Why not promote more of this healthy option?  Far too many hospitals are wedded to vehicles - I know someone who's trying to promote healthier travel option in a hospital and he says it's a huge struggle. 
Would you mind responding and let me know if you'll be covering this later?"

All of you have an important point to make and we're glad you made it.  Personally, I wish there was no need for hospital parking at all.  But the x-ray technician who is called to the hospital to do a stat CT scan needs reliable transportation.  It's also unrealistic to expect frail seniors to take a bus or a taxi in cold weather in the middle of the night or to be expected to make the journey without help.  For practical reasons, a car may offer the most efficient means of transportation.  My challenge to you is to go beyond ranting and point us in the direction of some solutions.  If you know of a green hospital that has eliminated parking and overcome the issues I've just raised, let us know.

I'll give Keith Daniel of Montreal the last word:  "Once again you and the CBC have done another great work with this broadcast. Let it be said that I'm a confirmed pedestrian, I do not own a motor vehicle, nor have I ever had a drivers license.  But here's the thing: I can go to the Montreal General, or the Guy Metro CLSC using public transport. In an emergency (it's happening twice) I can walk up the street to the Royal Victoria emergency room.  Now we have the Grand New Montreal McGill hospital complex being built, admittedly on a Metro line, but still distantâ€|  I'm getting older, live on a disability, but I still have lottery fantasies of having a quiet house in the country. But how do these people get there?  Thank you, excellent radio once again."

And thanks again to all of you for sending us your thoughts.

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