Return of pay parking at B.C. hospitals hurts universal access to health care: critics

Critics are calling on the B.C. government to reverse its decision to restore pay parking in hospitals in March, saying one of the main reasons for the change, people who abuse the system, can be easily remedied. Neetu Garcha reports.

British Columbia’s plan to reintroduce pay parking to hospitals is facing criticism from opponents who say the move will create new barriers for people seeking care.

“We’re creating something that’s not really smelling like universal access to health care,” Jon Buss, lead volunteer with the group told Global News.

B.C. waived pay parking at hospitals as the COVID-19 pandemic took hold in April, 2020 — but the Ministry of Health says people who aren’t actually accessing the facilities have been abusing the privilege, making it harder for real patients to get care.

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It said eliminating pay parking also cost the province $78 million in lost fees.

Buss said there is no question that parking must be reserved for people actually using the hospital, but he said putting a price on it penalizes patients and visitors.

“We have to have easy access, free parking, where there is no obligation or threat of financial penalty,” he said.

“The easy money is so lucrative it was just a matter of time before they turned on the taps of gouging people for accessing healthcare.”

The province’s plan will keep parking free for patients receiving dialysis treatment or undergoing cancer treatment in acute-care programs, and for parents or caregivers of children staying in the hospital overnight.

Buss argued it was unfair to separate out that group from other hospital users.

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Michael Sandler, CEO of the Nurses and Nurse Practitioner Association of B.C. said non-hospital patients using hospital parking was a real one, and that a solution was needed to ensure already exhausted hospital staff weren’t spending time circling the lot looking for a spot or walking in from blocks away.

But he said a compromise was needed, given that patients and their advocates routinely identify pay parking as a barrier to care.

“Something had to be done to ensure that access was maintained,” he told Global News.

“We would advocate for a system that allows for patients to access their care free of parking charges …  that also prevents individuals who aren’t accessing care form utilizing it for free — there are a bunch of ways that has been done in other jurisdictions.”

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Buss said his group has proposed multiple solutions to the problem to the province, such as having patients, visitors and volunteers register their licence plates when they enter the hospital.

“We have made this clear in our statements from the beginning. How to do it, and why it’s important,” he said.

“This isn’t hard to do, this isn’t a new technology.”

Under B.C.’s program, volunteers will still be able to park for free and the province says financial hardship provisions will continue to be managed on a case-by-case basis by health authorities.

The pay parking program will resume on March 4, 2022.

© 2022 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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