OPERATING ON OUR WALLETS
What bugs me most about the extortion by hospital administrators in parking charges fon their patients and visitors is that things have only got worse since the Canadian Medical Association Journal three years ago called for abolition of hospital parking fees because they were a barrier to better health care.
I wrote about it on Dec. 3, 2011, under the same headline that this blog/column waves. The CMA and patient committees have not softened their approach about hospital CEOs acting like highwaymen. The only reaction is that the federal Conservative government on Jan. 24 eliminated the HST on hospital parking fees.
(Of course there shouldn't have been an HST on hospital parking in the first place. Just another example of the feds tossing their HST net over items that used to be free of their gouging.)
Several years ago I spent three months in four hospitals. After the ordeal where I had to learn to walk again, I wrote a Toronto Sun series called Hospital Hell. What is burned into my soul forever is anger about the awful nursing at St. Joseph's which left me with deep ulcers on my backside that took a tedious year to heal, AND the deep ulcers on the wallets of family and friends when they came to visit.
There are specialists who will admit that they have had patients stand up in the middle of the crucial interview and say that they have to go rescue their car. They had faced the usual long wait even though they had shown up on time and now, because of all the delays, the $9 an hour fee, for example at Western, had grown past $18 and they just didn't have the money.
The CBC program Marketplace has been running some useful stuff critical of hospitals. It paid for a survey of 1,000 Canadians: 52% said parking costs affected how often they visit and stay at a hospital, 22% said they couldn't afford to visit, 14% said they couldn't afford to volunteer, and 3% said they couldn't afford to come for an appointment.
Yet Deb Matthews, the provincial health minister, doesn't even try to convince us that she will do something about this awful situation, saying parking charges aren't covered by the Canada Health Act. A typical response from this awful government. I can write out a policy for her on one sheet of paper that can be imposed tomorrow and everyone would benefit. All she has to do is tell the hospitals that they can only charge a parking fee that covers the cost and maintenance of parking facilities or lots. Any profit will be deducted from the money the hospital gets from the province.
Of course parking is just the start. Just look at the gouging over TV and telephone service, which are generally lousy.
The only reason the exorbitant parking fees are not more controversial is because of the anti-car feeling by too many in public health and politics. Surely it would be better for the city, they think, if we all took transit to the hospital and maybe, if the heart attack is too bad, perhaps use an ambulance. As for visitors to come and hold your hand in case you are expiring, well, they can hoof it.
Just look at the policy of the police and City Hall dealing with parking in a hospital neighbourhood. It is punitive both in regulation and enforcement. The city should also order the parking enforcement officers that they can only check the block around a hospital at the same rate as they do the rest of the city. They can't look on a hospital neighbourhood as a favourite fishing hole.
Go to a hospital like St. Joe's and watch the parking cops endlessly circle the block. I parked on a side street waiting to collect Mary from a hospital appointment and was sitting in the car which had a disabled parking sign. The parking cop pulled up and told me to move because, as the poor signage didn't indicate, apparently I was in a No Stopping zone which existed for no apparent reason.
Watch the parking cop vultures nail parkers outside every hospital who are waiting to collect relatives from an appointment because they can't afford the usurious hospital parking rates.
Ah yes, the flip side of medicare. It's wonderful, but there are wait times, strange fees and the parking costs more than the surgeon.