To the barricades. The Great Vancouver Island Hospital Pay Parking revolt is spreading south.
Last week, Campbell River municipal council voted to bar Island Health from charging for parking at the new hospital due to open there this fall.
Now, 50 kilometres down the road, Courtenay is looking at following suit when its new hospital opens this year. Council is waiting for its lawyers to say what the ramifications of such a ban might be.
“I’m hoping we will take the same path Campbell River has,” says Courtenay Mayor Larry Jangula.
This is not really a big surprise. Neither community has hidden its distaste for pay parking at hospitals. People in Victoria and Nanaimo might be resigned to plugging the meter, but elsewhere on the Island the idea is still new enough to curl lips and furl brows.
Like those in Duncan and Port Alberni, Campbell River residents do not currently pay to park at their hospitals. St. Joseph’s, the Comox facility whose acute-care functions will shift to the new Courtenay hospital this fall, only began charging in 2010.
The health authority says it plans to implement pay parking at all new hospitals. Were it to get rid of the meters, the money they bring in Island-wide — $7.6 million last year — would have to come out of the health-care budget. That’s a lot of CT scans and knee surgeries.
Jangula is unimpressed by that argument. “No matter how they whitewash it, it doesn’t make it any easier. It’s kind of like kicking somebody while they’re down.”
Pay parking is often a burden on the people who can least afford it, those who frequent hospitals for treatment, he says. It’s also an impediment to those who want to see sick friends and relations. “You might have second thoughts about how often you’re going to visit or how long you’re going to stay.”
Then there’s the domino effect as drivers try to duck the parking fees. Courtenay’s hospital is being built next to the public pool and North Island College. The college, fearing hospital visitors would flow into its lot, launched its own pay-parking regime last fall. That, in turn, has led to students leaving their vehicles on nearby streets, much to the displeasure of residents who must now fight to park in their own neighbourhood.
The game of musical chairs (or cars) will only get worse if those trying to avoid the hospital parking fees are added to the mix, the mayor says. He wonders if nearby Home Depot will have to hire security to chase non-shoppers from its lot.
This is one of those hot-button issues that gets people mad. Last week’s column on Campbell River’s decision brought a spate of emails from readers.
“My husband was rushed to the hospital with atrial fibrillation last Thursday and since then I have spent a fortune on parking,” said a message from Trisha Walsh.
“For families with ill members it’s terrible to charge them so much when they are already dealing with so much stress.”
It’s not just patients and their families who are unhappy. A doctor wrote of emerging from Victoria General at 11 p.m. after an unexpectedly long and complicated birth, only to find a ticket on his windshield.
“Mine was virtually the only vehicle in the empty parking lot and I wondered, ‘What was the point?’
“I frequently have patients complain about having to run out and top up the meters whilst waiting for a loved one in ER, X-ray or surgery,” a doctor wrote.
“I think that’s unfair. … They could make a lot of people less aggravated by following Campbell River and others and getting rid it.”
No sign of that, though. So far this fuss, featuring the curious spectacle of one arm of government fighting another, has been confined to the north Island.
It will be intriguing to see how Island Health reacts. So far it hasn’t had much to say about Campbell River’s bylaw amendment or Courtenay’s potential action. Everyone else seems only too happy to put in their two bits (though not necessarily their loonies or credit cards).