COLUMN: Hospital parking doesn’t have to be a nightmare

There are solutions to pay-parking stress, if health officials willing to look for them

If there’s one complaint we get here at the Abbotsford News more than any other, it’s that it sucks to have to pay to park at the hospital.

And it does.

Illnesses, of course, can cause financial stress and drug prices are no joke, but the general theme of our public health care system is that when you go into the hospital, you mostly don’t have to worry about what the final bill for treatment and care will be.

Which is why paying to park at the hospital is such a major bummer.

Whether you’re stopping by for a procedure, or caring for someone long-term, the need to pay for parking is a continuous niggle at the corners of your already-stressed mind.

It’s easy to think the obvious solution is for parking to be free.

The problem with that is that doing so would likely force health authorities to buy more land, an expensive proposition that would be funded by a public with better things to spend their health care dollars on.

But there’s no reason the parking situation at Abbotsford Regional Hospital and other hospitals should be as miserable as it is currently.

This topic is at the fore of my mind because I spent most of Monday at the hospital for a relative’s non-serious surgery.

Upon parking, the first thing you’re confronted with are barely discernible numbers on each stall. These numbers aren’t needed anymore. The licence plate is the key to hospital parking, but if it’s your first time there, you’ll probably spend some time trying to decipher what stall you’ve parked in. I saw one person doing just that. I saw another person try to enter the stall number in the machine.

Which brings us to the machines. When I arrived around noon, there was a long lineup for the two pay machines near the hospital entrance.

Once you get to the front of the line, you’re left trying to calculate how long you will be in the hospital.

Canada’s health care system is good for many things. What it does not do well is over-deliver on speed. We all should know this by now. I, as a reporter who has written tens of thousands of words on the subject, should know this better than most. And yet, when considering how long I’d be staying at the hospital on Monday, I low-balled it.

For the rest of the day, that had me looking at the clock and bugging nurses about when we’d finally be on our way. Clearly, I should have plunked down for the 12-hour rate instead of hoping that I’d be gone in two.

But the point is not that I lost a wager with a parking machine. It’s merely that there is no reason that parking at a hospital should not, and does not have to, be quite so anger-inducing.

Scrape off, or just paint over, those parking stall numbers on the pavement. Add another pay meter or two – preferably in the parking lot so new visitors don’t have to hunt for them. And consider the variety of ways the whole meter-plugging problem can be solved.

It should be easy in this day and age. You should be able to enter your licence plate and have a machine bill you throughout the day until you return and tell it you’re leaving. Have it max out at a certain daily dollar amount and the problem is solved. You pay for all the parking you use, and none you don’t. Have an attendant check lots once a day for the licence plates of people who have left but forget to check out.

Fixing the hospital parking nightmare doesn’t require space-age technology. It just requires a little initiative and a recognition that the current half-baked system imposes stress on men and women going through difficult enough times as it is.

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