Toronto Etobicoke Chapter: Hospital visitors deserve parking rate break, says Toronto patient advocate

Click here to read ‘Hospital visitors deserve parking rate break, says Toronto patient advocate‘ by Mike Adler – Inside Toronto, January 19, 2016

Hospital parking fees “break the bank” and are a barrier to the care visiting loved ones can provide, a Toronto patient advocate says.

Francesca Grosso, whose elderly mother has been hospitalized for long periods, said the city’s hospitals often charge more for parking than its top hotels.

Hospitals have maximum daily rates of up to $28, but if you leave – say, to pick up a child at school – the clock starts again, she said.

“I’ve had times when I’ve had to pay 25 bucks three times a day,” said Grosso, a board member of the advocacy group Patients Canada.

She called regulations announced by Ontario’s Liberal government this week to make hospital parking more affordable for frequent visitors a great start.

Starting Oct. 1, hospitals that charge more than $10 a day will have to provide passes for five, 10 and 30 days at half off the daily rate.

Those passes must come with in-and-out privileges and be transferable between patients and caregivers.

Hospitals are also being told not to raise their daily parking rates for the next three years, the province said.

In response, the Ontario Hospital Association said the government encouraged hospitals to generate revenue that would help cover their operating expenses, and this decision to cut a revenue source could not come at worse time.

“Revenue generated from parking fees is always used for patient care, towards the purchase of capital equipment and projects, infrastructure, clinical research, and day-to-day operations such as facility maintenance,” OHA CEO Anthony Dale added in a statement Monday, Jan. 18.

Ontario hospitals, Dale said, “are now at a turning point” after four years with no increase in their base operating funding, and it’s harder for them to improve their buildings, equipment, or communications technologies.

New Democrats said residents, together, paid nearly $500,000 every day last year to park at Ontario hospitals, and the Liberals were too slow in bringing them relief.

“Those hospital parking fees make life harder for families and seniors, but for years the Liberals have refused to take action,” said a statement from France Gelinas, the party’s health critic.

Gary Hepworth, chair of the Etobicoke chapter of Canadian Association of Retired Persons (CARP), said his group welcomes the changes, “as hospital parking fees are an unwelcome burden for families already undergoing a lot of stress due to the hospitalization of a loved one.”

Hepworth said CARP members would like to see the changes earlier than October, and their one concern is whether hospitals will try to recover the lost revenue with “some other fee or charge.”

Grosso, who lives in midtown Toronto, said she knows hospitals are strapped for money and parking is lucrative, but “you’ve got people at their most vulnerable point” paying too much.

The problem is so large, the city has had to restrict parking on streets around hospitals, she said.

Caregivers sitting with patients aren’t playing Candy Crush or reading books, Grosso added, but are providing care hospital staff are often too busy to give, helping patients to washrooms, feeding them, or lending emotional support.

It’s important for hospitals to advertise the new policy on parking passes to patients and loved ones, she said.

Robert Biron, CEO of The Scarborough Hospital, said his institution has maintained the lowest parking rates among comparable Greater Toronto hospitals since 2009.

TSH already has multi-use passes, but they are structured differently, said Biron.

Parking does pay some hospital costs, and it’s too early to tell whether the new regulations will affect the finances of TSH, he said, adding if they do, a new revenue source must be found.