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Samantha Lucy

Hospital parking fees a burden

Last month, high hospital parking fees garnered national attention when a cancer patient in Winnipeg created a petition and sprayed foam in parking meters in protest. The act spurred a necessary debate across Canada about the accessibility of our health care services.

The discontent with hospital parking fees has spread to Calgary, with the Winnipeg patient’s petition boasting over 4,000 signatures. Unfortunately, the Alberta New Democratic government responded on Oct. 12 that the province cannot afford to put money into subsidizing the cost of parking.

In 2014–15, Alberta Health Services received $75 million in revenue from parking fees, of which $28 million was used to cover operating costs. Gouging excessive revenue out of people in a vulnerable state — sick, injured, elderly or in other need of medical attention — is not an action our government should consider acceptable. Accessible health care is highly valued in Canada and our government’s policies should reflect that.

Though providing health care falls under provincial jurisdiction, the Canada Health Act states that “the primary objective of Canadian health care policy is to protect, promote and restore the physical and mental well-being of residents of Canada and to facilitate reasonable access to health services without financial or other barriers.” Provinces are not required to follow the Canada Health Act, but the Alberta Health Act states that the province is “committed to the principles of the Canada Health Act.”

Hospital parking prices can impose a significant financial barrier to individuals in accessing our health care services. In Calgary, a half-hour of parking will cost you $2.25, with daily rates capped at $14.25 or $26.00 depending on the facility. To those already under financial stress from the associated costs of an ailment, these fees pose unnecessary stress on patients and their loved ones.

Not only is our province going against its own legislation, but it is undermining the importance that we as Canadians put on socialized medicine. A poll by Nanos Research shows that 86.2 per cent of respondents support or somewhat support public solutions to health care.

AHS does provide compassionate parking — parking free of charge — to “patients and families in the cases of financial hardship.” But what is considered financial hardship is not specified. Additionally, if an individual and their family is currently going through a traumatic medical event, the last thing someone needs is to jump through the hoops required to get this “compassionate parking.”

The University of Calgary is in an interesting position regarding this issue. Our connections to both the Foothills Medical Centre and the Alberta Children’s Hospital through our research and medical programs as well as location may provide some leverage in advocating for reduced prices. Though it probably shouldn’t be an objective of the U of C to have a blatant response to the issue, the interconnection between our public institutions make our involvement difficult to separate. 

As students, unless we have visited someone in hospital or have had an experience requiring hospitalization, our connection with health services is generally limited. Our youth provides us good health, allowing us to remain unaware of the financial and emotional strain that health issues can inflict. Still, it is important we remain advocates for the universality of our health care system that is so deeply entrenched in our society, be that through signing a petition, writing to your Member of Legislative Assembly or simply remaining active in the debate. 

As someone who spent a considerable amount of time navigating through health care systems as a child, the high parking prices in Calgary always warranted comments from my parents. I used to travel to San Antonio, Texas for medical procedures and parking was $10.00 for a whole week. Here, $10.00 would get you about 4.5 hours. This discrepancy is inconceivable.

Yes, our province is currently experiencing financial woes. Yes, reducing or eliminating the cost of parking for patients would increase the demand our health care system puts on our provincial coffers. But it is the responsibility of our provincial government to make healthcare accessible to all and that means lowering parking prices.

The absurdity of charging individuals requiring medical service — possibly in their most vulnerable condition — more than what is required for covering operating costs is not something our government should make excuses for.

Derek Baker, Gauntlet Editorial Board

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