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Health-care workers petition for free hospital parking to continue

Free parking, introduced during pandemic, comes to an end on March 4
Pay parking at Royal Jubilee Hospital. The province announced last month it is bringing back hospital pay parking starting March 4, blaming non-hospital users for taking advantage of the pandemic initiative, introduced in the spring of 2020. DARREN STONE, TIMES COLONIST

A petition asking the province to maintain free hospital parking for health-care ­workers is gaining momentum with more than 22,000 signatures.

After a two-year suspension, the province announced last month it is bringing back ­hospital pay parking starting March 4, ­blaming non-hospital users for ­taking ­advantage of the pandemic initiative, ­introduced in spring 2020.

The health-care workers say they are on the front lines of the pandemic and shouldn’t be penalized for the actions of those who broke the rules.

“Instead of charging health-care workers, who do not have the option of working from home during the pandemic, why not provide a free-parking pass for them to display in their car,” the petition suggests.

Nurse Chenie Palawar, one of the ­supporters who posted her reasons for ­signing the petition, said after two years of working through the pandemic the last thing she needs to be thinking about is paying for parking. “The fact this is coming back is just a slap in the face.”

B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix has blamed drivers who have taken free spaces “while conducting business that’s not ­hospital-related,” causing a shortage of spaces for those who really need them.

On Thursday, the Heath Ministry said it has heard from partners across all health authorities and communities that health-care workers and patients have struggled to access parking due to it being free-of-charge.

“We’ll continue to work with our partners, including health authorities, to ensure ­parking remains available for those who need it most,” the ministry said.

Jon Buss, who is behind the lobby group, has been fighting the issue on behalf of patients, their ­supporters, and people who work at the health-care ­facilities.

Buss applauded the nurses who started the petition, but said he doesn’t have high hopes it will change the minister’s mind, having seen similar petitions, social media pages, news stories and emotional pleas fall flat.

He suggests stakeholders meet Dix to agree on a system that both ensures that patients and their supporters do not pay for parking, and non-hospital users are kept out.

“It requires a sit-down meeting or series of meetings for the people who can make this happen and it starts with Adrian Dix because he’s the guy who says yes or no,” said Buss.

“It’s a tough nut to crack because it’s easy money.”

Parking fees were suspended on April 1, 2020, after COVID-19 was declared a ­pandemic, to reduce the risk of transmission from touching screens and buttons at payment kiosks, and to avoid crowding in kiosk lines.

The Provincial Health Services Authority temporarily suspended payroll deductions for parking fees.

The B.C. government said just over $78 million in parking fees have been waived since then. The parking rates, frozen for four years, will go unchanged.

Parking fees are being re-introduced to ensure spaces are available for patients, staff and volunteers, Dix said. He said he had received “hundreds” of complaints from people unable to find a space.

Free parking at provincial health-care facilities will continue for patients having dialysis or cancer treatment in acute-care programs, and for parents or caregivers of children staying in hospital overnight.

Volunteers will still be able to park for free. Financial hardship provisions will continue to be managed on a case-by-case basis by health authorities, the Health Ministry said.

Methods that were in place in 2020 to allow free parking — such as dash passes, e-coupons and reimbursement — will also continue.

In cases where there is a need or people are in hospital for a long time, health authorities can waive parking fees.

Dix said health authorities are modernizing the payment system with touch-free options and apps to make the process safer and more convenient.

Not all hospitals on Vancouver Island have pay parking. People visiting patients at Victoria General, Royal Jubilee and Saanich Peninsula hospitals have had to pay, while it was free at Campbell River and Comox Valley North Island hospitals. Island Health confirmed that will remain the case going forward.

Island Health collected $7.9 million from parking fees in 2018. In 2015-2016, it cost about $3 million to maintain the lots — including $1 million paid to Robbins Parking, the contractor hired to police them.

Almost all of the parking management in B.C. hospitals was contracted out in 2020. posted in January 2020 the results of a freedom of information request for parking-violation statistics for 2018-2019 at Island Health facilities.

Results showed that 67 per cent of the 13,105 parking tickets issued at Vancouver Island hospitals went to staff, including doctors and nurses. Of those 13,105 tickets, only 4,660 were paid.

The data showed not one public vehicle was towed that year at any Island hospital for failing to pay parking fines, but 13 staff vehicles were towed.

Buss said rather than investing in measures to ensure patients and their supporters could find sufficient parking, “the provincial government decided this widely hated policy would be just be turned back on.”

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