Robert’s column

Robert’s column

Robert Barron column: New hospital shouldn’t charge for parking

Paying a parking meter is the last thing people visiting a hospital should have to worry about.

In all the times I’ve had to visit the Nanaimo Regional General Hospital over the years, either for work or for personal reasons, I refused to pay for parking.

I would drive up and down the side streets surrounding the hospital, which were always lined with parked cars belonging to like-minded people, looking for a rare open spot and it would often take a long time to find one.

But it was a matter of principle for me and I was determined not to pay for the ability to park closer to the hospital in one of its lots.

Like many others, I’ve always had a problem with hospitals demanding payment from its visitors just for the right to park on their property.

It’s not like you’re going to a ball game, a movie, or some other type of recreation when you head to the hospital.

A lot of times, it’s because either you, a family member or someone else you know needs medical attention, so people are often tasked to take the ailing person to the hospital to receive it, or are heading there to be by the side of loved ones in a time of need.

It should not be a time for searching your pockets, some times in vain, for change or a credit card to feed a parking meter.

It’s a time-consuming distraction that could have dire consequences for the person that needs to get medical attention and, for many, it’s an expense they can ill afford but are forced to pay anyway to get their sick loved ones inside the facility.

And then when the patients are in their hospital beds and their family and friends are by their sides, they are forced to leave every few hours to feed the parking meter and take the chance of getting an expensive ticket if they lose track of time, which many do in these circumstances.

It’s really a form of extortion that those accountants and hospital administrators that make the decisions to have pay parking at their facilities know people will have to pay.

They always claim they need the revenue to help pay for the many costs that hospitals have, but I’m sure that other funding sources could be creatively tapped to take this onerous burden off the hospital visitors.

We’ve been blessed to have a hospital in the Cowichan Valley that doesn’t have pay parking, and hasn’t for a very long time, but there’s no guarantee that the new $887-million Cowichan District Hospital that will soon be constructed on Bell McKinnon Road will follow suit.

There will be about 800 parking spots at the new hospital, about double the number of spaces at the current one on Gibbins Road, but Island Health, which is building the hospital, has yet to say whether it intends to have pay parking at the facility when it’s completed in 2026.

But during a 2019 interview I had with Al Siebring, mayor of North Cowichan where the new hospital will be located, he gave me some hope that Island Health will be challenged if they try to introduce pay parking.

He told me at the time that a hospital is a place where people go because they are sick, and they should not have to pay for parking there.

Siebring said that during the construction of the new hospital in Campbell River, that community’s city council passed resolutions to abolish pay parking at their new health facility and other public lands within the city’s boundaries.

Despite original plans by Island Health to have pay parking at the Campbell River hospital, the health authority eventually buckled to public pressure and announced it would not be charging the public, staff, volunteers or physicians for parking at the hospital either.

“I intend to put this to North Cowichan’s council if Island Health does plan to have pay parking at the new Cowichan District Hospital,” Siebring said at the time.

“We had the same discussions when the new Vancouver Island University campus was being constructed in the Valley [in 2011] while I was chairman of the Island Savings Centre Commission. VIU intended to have pay parking on campus, which would have pushed all that parking onto the Island Savings Centre. In the end, they were forced to back down.”

That’s the attitude all our politicians in the Valley from the various levels of government should take towards any idea of having pay parking at the new hospital.

Paying a parking meter is the last thing people visiting a hospital should have to worry about.

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