Saturday, December 3, 2011



When I was a kid reporter,  I was assigned by Art Holland at the lamented Telegram to leaf through the Canadian Medical Association Journal and other medical publications, especially the famous New England one, to see if there were stories the paper could pursue.
We had a medical reporter but for some suspicious reason I got to do a lot of reading. After all, I was the son of a doctor and nurse.
Never did I come across an editorial that resonated through me like the editorial in the latest Journal saying it's time hospitals abolished parking fees for the sake of their patients.
As my beloved grandfather used to shout out during the service in the little Baptist Church on the hill, Amen Brother!
The editorial says the parking charges amount to nothing more than user fees and so are an impediment to health care. In fact, it suggests, there may be legal challenges under the Canadian Health Act.
An example was given about patients who have been waiting weeks to see a doctor who rush through the consultation when they realize they will have to pay more, say $5, for parking if they stay. Since I visit a hospital every two weeks as an outpatient, I can sympathize with that situation since you can wait hours past your appointment time just to get to the doctor and the parking charges can soar.
The Star dug out examples of Toronto hospital parking charges and reported all the usual malarkey from excuse spokesmen about how the money goes to patient care, general operations and research. I know the drill as a long-time member of a hospital board. (We also had a barrage of complaints from  neighbours about all the parking by staff and visitors in front of their homes even though after 60 years it was obvious the hospital had been there long before them.)
After spending three months in four hospitals earlier this year, I can testify in any court that parking costs were a continual headache for my family and visitors. In fact some only came to see me when they figured there was a chance to park on the street instead of paying the $2.50 for 30 minutes at St. Joseph's Health Care Centre.
Turns out that St. Joe's is almost angelic compared to other Toronto hospitals, like the $4 for 20 minutes at Mount Sinai.  The excuse person there said it helped support programs and equipment upgrades. (I thought that was the responsibility of the costly medicare program.) I am being sarcastic when I say that at least Mount Sinai has a $2. At the University Health Network (TGH, Western) it's $28 and $4.50 for 30 minutes.
No wonder outpatients drag themselves there by the TTC. Just don't bleed on the subway car.
I remember a few years ago when my late brother-in-law was in York County Hospital (now Southlake ) in Newmarket that I almost didn't have enough cash to pay for the parking. I had remembered the hospital as a modest operation because over the decades before when I visited my sister who was one of the head nurses, parking was easy and cheap.
 Now even suburban hospitals rush to gouge you so they can balance their budgets. Except for families of modest means, already rocked by the alien experience of having their routine interrupted by a loved one being incarcerated, parking is a significant cost that may well cause some to skip a visit when that may be the best medicine that could be given that day.
Toronto hospitals may pretend they're not in the parking business when they have their lots and garage that can accommodate a thousand or more cars each but it's just another commercial operation like the coffee, gift and sandwich shops.
Oh yes, they do operations on the side, besides the ones on our wallets.

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