Vancouver Island rejects northern plea for free hospital parking

North Island push to stop parking fees at new Courtenay and Campbell River hospitals fails to gain support

Delegates to the Association of Vancouver Island Coastal Communities settle in to debate a series of resolutions Saturday morning.

There appears to be a large gap between residents of north and south Vancouver Island on the issue of pay parking at hospitals.

And that has left north end politicians feeling somewhat betrayed by their southern counterparts.

A plea from north Island communities for support in their bid to eliminate parking fees at new hospitals being constructed in Campbell River and Courtenay was rejected at the Association of Vancouver Island and Coastal Communities conference last weekend.

“It’s extremely disappointing,” Quadra Island-based Strathcona Regional District director Jim Abram said. “I think a lot of people there don’t understand the dynamics of the north Island. It was a very poorly thought-out move.”

Abram is the elected local representative for the Discovery Islands — a sprawling collection of rugged islands and remote inlets stretching northeast from Campbell River onto the mainland.

His constituents — and those in neighbouring communities like Gold River, Tahsis, Port Alice and Sointula — will be served by the new $274.5 million, 95-bed hospital opening in late 2017 in Campbell River.

Abram said the difference between these people and the people in the south island is that in the north many people have to drive four or five hours on a dark logging road or aboard a ferry to get to their hospital. Often, their incomes are lower and their options fewer.

“Then they have the stress of maybe not being able to go back home,” he said, adding the additional issue of feeding a parking meter is something they don’t need.

Saanich councillor Judy Brownoff said she is sympathetic to the situation in the north but for her it’s a question of how to best use health care dollars. Parking is an expensive service. Free parking means parking maintenance will take money away from actual health services.

“It’s a difficult situation,” she said. “I’d rather the dollars go to health care than a parkade.”

That reflects the position of Island Health.

In a February interview, Island Health corporate director of logistics and operations James Hanson told Black Press parking fees are necessary in order to provide parking services since Island Health will always pick health care over parking when it comes to setting budget priorities.

“If we didn’t have parking fees, we would have to take it out of patient care money,” he said. “It’s that simple.”

Courtenay and Campbell River will join Royal Jubilee, Victoria General, Aberdeen, Gorge Road, Saanich Peninsula, Nanaimo and Priory as Island Health facilities charging fees. They will also be implemented at future facilities like the planned Cowichan District Hospital replacement.

Fees at the new hospitals are expected to mirror those of existing hospitals down-Island — typically between $2.25 and $2.75 for the first two hours, and $1.25 for each additional hour. Weekly permits are available for $26.75, and subsidies are in place for certain types of patients and people in need.

B.C. Health Minister Terry Lake has informed the regional district that officials intend to proceed with the fees, but Abram said residents have yet to give up the fight.

“This kind of thing should never be happening in this day and age,” he said. “It is difficult to say what we will do next, but we are going to do something. This is sick.”

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