Tracking down the culprit

Late last fall, we checked with the Ministry of Health, by asking the assistant to our MPP to get an answer about who mandated parking charges as a revenue stream. We were told that this is not a Ministry of Health initiative and that we should talk to our local hospital.

Our next step was to meet with the CEO of our local hospital, Markham Stouffville Hospital. Janet Beed, a gracious powerhouse with enormous responsibilities, gave us 90 minutes of her time. Joining us was Rob Bull, the CFO of MSH, who guided us through an overview of hospital budgeting and helped to explain how parking fees fit in.

Through this meeting we’ve determined two things…

  1. Administrators rely on the revenues from parking fees to operate hospitals.  This revenue is a fraction of the total, but is considered irreplacable now.
  2. Hospital adminstrators feel compelled by government funders to maximize revenues from their parking lots. Parking revenues are at the top of a list provided by the Ministry of Health and the LHINs. This list names sources of revenue the hospitals must exhaust before asking for government funding.

Next, we met with Dr. Helena Jaczek, MPP for Oak-Ridges Markham, and the former Medical Officer of Health for York Region. Dr. Jaczek recommended we talk to the CEO of the Central LHIN, our local office. Dr. Jaczek and her staff made contact on our behalf.

Some weeks later, Kim Baker, CEO of the Central LHIN, sent a letter by email. That letter is found here.  Ms. Baker referred us back to the hospital, stating ” the authority to set parking rates resides with each individual hospital or health service provider.”

We had asked for a meeting – what we got was a washing of hands. “Not I”, says the LHIN.

In order to be respectful of the excellent work of our Hospital, the Foundation and the Municpality, we next organized meetings with representatives to ask for support and advice on this matter.

We were met with kindness and interest by Suzette Strong, President of the MSH Foundation, who worried about parking fees affecting support for the efforts of the Foundation. Mandated to raise funds for the hospital’s capital expenses, the Foundation builds relationships with individuals, companies and governments to meet a growing need for funds. Ms Strong sympathized with our aims, but could not imagine adding $3 million per year to the already huge task of attracting support for the Hospital.

We met with His Honour, Wayne Emmerson, Mayor of Whitchurch Stouffville, who holds a place on the MSH board. His frank demeanor was refreshing and he helped us to understand that these funds cannot come from the municipal coffers.

Our meeting with His Honour, Frank Scarpitti, who is tasked with raising $50 million for the local hospital expansion, was uplifting. Mayor Scarpitti, a man with a wide network and deep understanding of the players, made a suggestion that we are now pursuing:

Why not offer a tax benefit to visitors who park at the Hospital? If this is truly a revenue generator, not coverage for the expense of running a parking operation, then a good part of the fees are, in fact, donations to the Hospital. A tax benefit might take the sting out of the fees and draw a direct line between hospital users and support for the Hospital operations.

We have approached a member of the local Hospital Board about this idea, and hope for a response soon.

Deputy Mayor of Markham, Jack Heath, listened carefully to our concerns. He knows the municipality and the Hospital are intertwined and is dealing with other parking issues within the Town of Markham, that affect the Hospital.

Councillor Carolina Moretti, Councillor Ward 4, was most helpful. She recommended we join with others who share our concern. Great advice!

Sadly, Regional Chair Bill Fisch refused to meet with us at all. The word, from the assistant to his assistant, was that he did not agree with our cause and would not talk to us about it. Hmmm. The Region of York is directing taxpayer funds to the MSH and other hospitals in the area. We think a meeting about rising and uncapped parking charges to hospital visitors would have been appropriate.

“Not interested”, says the Region.

And now, the trail has led us back to the Ministry of Health. We have asked for a meeting with a Ministry official, to no avail. Please help us if you can.

The people of Ontario need to know – who mandated parking charges as a revenue source for Ontario health care facilities? Were the people of Ontario ever asked if this means of funding is okay with them?