Nfld. & Labrador

Hospital parking tickets incense dad of dying child

A father of a little girl dying in a St. John's hospital says sheer frustration led him to lash back against a slew of parking tickets he has received.

Health authority CEO says there are parking 'options'

Robert Thornhill says getting parking tickets is not important to him, but only adds to his frustration as he cares for his terminally ill daughter. (CBC)

A father who has been enduring the dread of watching his child die of cancer has lashed back at what he calls an insensitive bureaucracy that continues to leave parking tickets on his car outside a St. John's hospital.

"Having a child in this situation is a mix of sadness, of anger, of just frustration," said Robert Thornhill, whose three-year-old daughter, Erica, suffers from acute myeloid leukemia, and is being treated at the Janeway children's hospital. 

Thornhill — who has shared around-the-clock shifts with his wife since last August as their daughter was treated in St. John's and Toronto — said he has asked for consideration from officials who issue parking tickets outside the Health Sciences Centre.

Robert Thornhill shared this photograph on Facebook, depicting a sign he had left for parking officers to read outside the Health Sciences Centre. (CBC)

Earlier this week, after seeing the latest parking ticket on his windshield, Thornhill — who lives in Carbonear, but has been home for only a few hours at a time since last summer — decided he had enough.

He wrote a letter for the security officers to see, put it in his car window, and posted a photograph of it on Facebook. It was shared rapidly by at least 2,000 others, many of them strangers.

"My child is upstairs dying of cancer and all you have to do is write me parking tickets. You must feel some good about yourself," Thornhill wrote in the note.

"I was just angry [and] frustrated. Really frustrated," Thornhill told CBC News on Thursday.

"It's not fair that people should have to deal with this, on top of losing a child."

Eastern Health has made changes in its parking system at the Health Sciences Centre over the past two years, largely to help patients who had to rush out to feed meters.

But Thornhill said the system still doesn't work for people with family members receiving care. He added he'd been given a placard to put in his car, but it only prevented tickets from being left on nights and weekends. Tickets are not issued at those times.

Eastern Health CEO responds

In an interview with CBC News, Eastern Health CEO Vickie Kaminski said she couldn't speak on a specific case, but did say there are options available for people with parking issues.

"I empathize with any family in that situation," said Kaminski.

"In cases where the family is from out of town and they have a child who is sick, they can park free of charge at Ronald McDonald House. You pay nothing … it's a very quick walk to the Janeway. So that's one option that we always present."

Kaminski added that if that option isn't acceptable, Eastern Health can provide access to the parking lot by giving families a gated pass.

"But there is one thing we can't do, because we have no ability to make free, are the meters right at the very entrance into the Janeway. Those are kept there for a very quick turnaround … those meters work perfectly for that, and it's about the only spot that's not available for consideration."

'Parent's worst nightmare'

Thornhill's daughter underwent three rounds of chemotherapy in St. John's, followed by an even more intensive round of treatment at Sick Kids Hospital in Toronto.

However, the Thornhills learned last month that their daughter's cancer had returned, and were told earlier this month that there is no chance Erica will survive the disease.

"It's a parent's worst nightmare," he said.

"It's [the fines] not important," he said. "It's just something that adds stress."

He added few people appreciate how gruelling daily life is for parents dealing with a child with life-threatening illness.

"For most people, it's not a prolonged experience, and for most people, it's not the ending that we see," he said. "The ending is death. That's what it is — it's death. That's what we face."