A Canadian battling cancer is on a mission to have the federal government ban paid parking at hospitals across the country.
Collin Kennedy has been fighting a very rare form of terminal cancer for two decades. He’s been in and out of the cancer facility in Winnipeg.
In one particular six-week period, his mother – who had travelled from out-of-province to help him – had to pay $600 in parking fees just to visit him in hospital.
“That’s wrong. That’s wrong,” Kennedy said. “That’s really wrong.”
“To have a terminally ill son and to have to deal with going in and out of treatment centres every day for the first half of my visit, the first half of my stay, was very difficult,” his mother Julia Berschley said.
Kennedy says Canadians should not be forced to pay for parking while visiting a hospital. He believes parking fees go against the spirit of the Canada Health Act. Kennedy says Canadians are supposed to have access to healthcare without any financial barrier or burden.
“Some of these people wait months to get access to our top medical people and they will cancel or say, ‘I’ve got to cut my meeting short because I can’t afford the meter right now,'” Kennedy said.
The Winnipeg Regional Health Authority has said government funding doesn’t cover parking lot maintenance and that revenue from parking lot payments goes directly back to services or parking infrastructure.
At one point, Kennedy became so frustrated with the situation he destroyed a parking meter with spray foam.
“The criminal element tend to prey on those who are at their weakest moments because that’s when they get the most profit,” he said. “Well, that’s exactly what’s happening here.”
“That’s breaking the law,” his mother stressed, “not Collin foaming a parking meter.”
“Scotland and Wales abolished parking meters in front of medical facilities because they saw it as an unethical thing to do – to extort and take money from the sick and the dying.”
(Graphic artist: Tonia Huynh, Global News)
Patients across the country are paying for parking. In Montreal, it could cost as much as $10 for half-an-hour. In Regina, the cost is as low as $1 for 30 minutes.
Alberta Health Services collected $78 million in parking revenue across the province last year.
AHS says every dollar will be re-invested in parking because it doesn’t receive government funding for that. When a new hospital is built, parking is not part of the capital budget.
“It’s not funded that way,” Steve Reed explained. “It’s funded through our parking revenue. Like I said, all the parking revenue is used for parking.”
If there was no parking revenue?
“There would be other taxes and so forth,” he said. “We’d have to pay for it some way.”
He said there are a number of ways people can pay for parking: meters, weekly or monthly passes. Rees also said parking costs can be supplemented in some cases through partnerships with social workers and the parking office.
There are exceptions to the rule. Prince Edward Island has eliminated the fees, as has the Vancouver suburb of Delta. The mayor pushed for the bylaw after her daughter had an extended hospital stay.
“I think you have to measure what’s most important: dollars or people,” Delta Mayor Lois Jackson said.
The federal government says this is a provincial issue.
Advocates want to see change and more transparency when it comes to parking companies’ income.
“With patients already experiencing an adverse medical event, particularly if it’s a long-term issue, parking fees get to be really, really up their on their priority list,” Angelica Martin with Open Arms Patient Advocacy Society said.
“Those fees can really seem exorbitant to them over time, it really does add up, and it becomes a barrier to health care as well as a burden in a time that’s already very stressful, very emotional.”
She said some patients will park far away from the hospital to avoid high fees. Others, she said, just can’t afford the parking.
“No family wants to be faced with the decision of either getting the medical care and attention that you need and having to pay the fee or sticking it out to see if it’s going to go away.”
With files from Tom Vernon, Global News