Parking for the Rich

In all of our efforts, looking at parking rates at hospitals in Ontario, it has become evident that parking rates at hospitals are geared to those that can afford them. It is also evident that if you know the ins and outs of hospital visits, you can to some extent, make the procedure less of a burden. It is our opinion that the vast  majority of people using the hospitals may not know of some of these procedures.

 

Day passes, weekly passes and monthly passes are often available. Using the example of the Markham/Stouffville Hospital, these rates apply. The usual rate is $3.75 for half an hour. This translates into $7.50 per hour. The daily pass is $19.00. The weekly pass is $45.00 and the monthly pass is $90.00. If you know that a person you are going to visit is to be hospitalized for a length of time it is possible to reduce the cost of visiting. However, if you find out after several days that this is the case, the weekly and monthly passes will not include those days you have already paid for.

 

In our research, we have found  that over 52, 000 clients accessed the York Region Food Banks in 2010.(The latest year’s figures. See http://yrfn.ca) This is a lot of people who need assistance with the essentials of living. It also translates into a lot of people who, if they need access to a hospital, will find the cost of parking an added burden. Now, we have recently found out that Markham-Stouffville Hospital has a policy for assisting those in need. Upon completion of a form filled out with a social worker, they could be entitled to a 30% discount on parking for the weekly and monthly passes. While it is a step in the right direction, could it not also be made less difficult for someone to access? What about all of those people who are coming in for tests that only take a few hours?

 

At a time when there are constraints on all of us because of the economy and the downloading of costs onto the consumer, parking at hospitals is one more area of worry, especially for those least able to afford it.

 

As one person commented on this website, perhaps it is time to respond to hospitals who ask for donations by saying I already gave at the parking lot.


Talking to Markham Stouffville Hospital representatives

In late December, 2011, we contacted Markham Stouffville Hospital with a view to talking to the MSH Board chair. We hoped to meet with the Board to explain the issue of high and rising hospital parking charges and to seek the support of the Board.

The initial response was a phone call from Janet Beed, CEO of the MSH Corporation, who declared that the Board knew all about the issue and that a representation from our group was not necessary.

A few days later, a letter arrived from Mr. Warren Jestin, Chair, Board of Directors, MSH Corporation, which is provided below. Mr. Jestin states that, “…we are not in a position to remove this revenue nor are we in a position to replace this revenue with another fundraising source at this time.”

While we actually sympathize with this position and believe that the solution to the matter of high and unchecked parking fees in our hospitals does not lie with individual hospitals, we had hoped that MSH would take the high road and offer at least moral support for our campaign. This is a dissappointing, although not unexpected, development.

We are further encouraged to take this discussion to the highest level. We will renew our efforts to meet with the Minister of Health, Deb Matthews, to gain a full understanding of where the responsibility for the impostion of parking charges on a vulnerable patient population lies.

Passing the buck from Hospital to LHIN to Ministry does not serve the public well. This strategy only serves to continue unchecked the stress on those in society who can least manage it: the sick, the old, the poor and those who would seek to support them.


Letter from Board Chair, MSH

Letter from Warren Jestin


CBC radio program takes up the issue

Dr. Brian Goldman is a veteran ER physician and one of Canada’s most trusted medical broadcasters, and is host of the program “White Coat, Black Art” on CBC  Radio One. An entire episode of the popular program, aired October 28th, 2011, was dedicated to the issue of parking fees at hospitals after Dr. Goldman himself experienced the shock of paying out hundreds of dollars to visit his ailing father.

The episode covered the matter thoroughly and is available streamed online at http://www.cbc.ca/whitecoat/blog/2011/10/28/park-your-frustration-show/.

Following the airing of the story, an unprecented number of listeners responded with their own experiences. Those responses are found at the site above and at Dr. Goldman’s blog site here: http://www.cbc.ca/whitecoat/blog/2011/11/15/park-your-frustration-mailbag/

and here http://www.cbc.ca/whitecoat/blog/2011/11/28/park-your-frustration-even-more/

The pent up frustration, pain and sense of injustice is growing in the Canadian public.

We call upon the policy makers to implement fair parking charges at public health institutions immediately.

 


Huge public response to parking issue

On November 28th, 2011, an editorial appeared in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, by Dr.Rajendra Kale, MD, Editor-in-Chief (Interim).

Dr. Kale stated that, “(P)arking fees are a barrier to health care and add avoidable stress to patients who have enough to deal with. They can and sometimes do interfere with a clinical consultation, reducing the quality of the interaction and therefore of care.”

He went on to say that, ” such fees are, for all practical purposes, user fees and a barrier to health care. Using revenue generated from such surrogate user fees for health care is against the health policy objective of the Canada Health Act and could become the subject of a legal challenge.”

The full editorial can be found at http://www.cmaj.ca/content/early/2011/11/28/cmaj.111846.

In response, the major media outlets of the nation have taken up the story, bringing the issue to public attention and starting a dialogue in the press, online and on broadcast media.

We urge you to search out these stories and add your voice to those who challenge the impostion of parking fees on a moral and legal level.

Some of these stories are at the links below:

http://www.vancouversun.com/health/Parking+fees+both+happy+trips+hospital/5823399/story.html

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/life/health/new-health/andre-picard/hospital-parking-fees-are-just-another-cost-of-sickness/article2260572/?utm_medium=Feeds%3A%20RSS%2FAtom&utm_source=Life&utm_content=2260572

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/life/the-hot-button/are-hospital-parking-fees-a-barrier-to-health-care/article2252183/

http://www.vancouversun.com/health/Hospital+parking+fees+spark+cries+ouch+from+patients+families/5811671/story.html

http://www.torontosun.com/2011/12/02/ban-hospital-parking-fees

http://www.cbc.ca/whitecoat/blog/2011/10/28/park-your-frustration-show/


Parking Fees Affect Business

In discussion with several businesses located on the site of the Markham-Stouffville Hospital, we have heard stories of how the parking issue adversely affects business. This is especially true for those businesses and professions that have an association with the hospital. Doctors, clinics, the drug store, the restaurant are all affected by the issue.

In the past, the hospital has tried various forms of collecting parking fees. Up until the last few years, parking was handled by taking your parking tag to a kiosk where a human dealt with you. This allowed some, if not all, of the businesses, to work out a method of validating your parking tag. Granted that the businesses would be assessed a fee for this service, but it still allowed people to park with a minimum of stress. The present use of automated machines does not allow for this option.

Are businesses affected? People must see the doctor, physiotherapist, or druggist. The parking issue is a major frustration which patients have discussed with these practitioners. More and more people are selecting off-site practitioners that have easier access. Some on-site professionals have offices elsewhere, allowing their patients an option. However, not all patients/customers using the  facilities on the hospital grounds have the option of travelling the distance to these off-site offices.

It would be interesting to do a study to find out if businesses have had to relocate because they could not make the situation work in this location, only to succeed elsewhere.

On the opposite side of the coin are the businesses located just blocks from the hospital that are profiting from the issue. A number of people have stated that family members or friends drop them off for their appointments and then travel to the nearest coffee shop, restaurant or grocery store. So they are thanking the hospital for the new customers.

 


How much are you paying for parking at your hospital?


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?