Calgary family fights parking ticket after rushing newborn to emergency

When their three-day-old son stopped eating and became lethargic, Chris Martin and his wife rushed the boy to the emergency room at the Alberta Children's Hospital.

Chris Martin says parents should be allowed to focus on health, not fees, in times of crisis

Baby Jonathan had to return to hospital when he was only three days old. (Chris Martin)

A father of a newborn is calling for changes to hospital parking enforcement in Alberta after a frustrating experience in Calgary.

When their three-day-old son stopped eating and became lethargic, Chris Martin and his wife rushed the boy to the emergency room at the Alberta Children's Hospital on Monday, on the advice of a public health nurse who called ahead.

They parked outside and checked in with the triage nurse.

Martin paid inside the building to park for 24 hours, but when he returned to his vehicle a half hour after arriving at the hospital, he discovered a $40 ticket for failure to pay for parking — issued just 10 minutes after he had parked.

"It's annoying and frustrating. You have so much going on that you're trying to deal with: child care for our other kid, obviously the concern for a three-day-old baby that's quite sick," Martin said.

"My wife's in the hospital, we're trying to work out all those logistics."

Chris Martin holds the parking ticket he received when rushing his son to the hospital. (Andrew Brown/CBC )

Martin tried to find someone on-site to waive the ticket but there was no one. The ticket had no phone number or email address, and he said the website was hard to navigate.

Eventually, he took to social media and complained about Alberta Health Services on Twitter.

The agency declined an interview with CBC News but offered to waive the fine and give Martin a complimentary parking pass. 

In a statement, the health authority said it apologizes to the family "as the parking ticket should not have been issued given the circumstances."

Chris Martin and his newborn son, Jonathan. (Chris Martin)

But Martin said he has heard of other similar stories, and so has Brian Jean, the longtime leader of the now-defunct Wildrose Party. The former MLA for Fort McMurray-Conklin campaigned on a promise to offer two free hours of parking at Alberta hospitals.

He said such a measure would alleviate stress for families, people attending appointments or those who wish to visit their loved ones frequently.

When he was in politics, Brian Jean campaigned to address parking fees at Alberta hospitals. (CBC )

The idea gained traction among Albertans when he was in politics, but Jean said Alberta Health Services didn't budge.

"I, myself, and my family had my son in the hospital for four months at the University of Alberta, and it was extremely stressful," Jean told the Calgary Eyeopener on Wednesday.

"Just having to deal with parking and all of the other things that are barriers that are in front of you, as well as emotional trauma, it's just not necessary."

His son, Michael Jean, was 24 when he died from lymphoma in March 2015.

The Alberta Children's Hospital has a parking lot for people attending the emergency room. You must pay before leaving your car. (Andrew Brown/CBC)

Martin and his family are now focusing on Jonathan, who was born borderline premature. He's now doing better and being treated at a different hospital.

While they appreciate the ticket being waived, they'd also like Alberta Children's Hospital to adopt a different parking process. They suggest a grace period to allow people to pay after dropoff or to pay when they leave the lot.

With files from Andrew Brown and the Calgary Eyeopener.