Petition demands free hospital parking for B.C. health workers fighting coronavirus

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A growing number of British Columbians are calling on the provincial government to waive hospital parking fees for health-care workers on the front lines of the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Christine Sorensen, president of the British Columbia Nurses’ Union, says she’s heard of several members getting parking tickets while on duty.

“They’re getting ticketed when their meters run out because they’re working very long hours in the acute care facilities and other care facilities,” she said.

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She adds health-care workers are spending more time disinfecting and decontaminating themselves to prevent the spread of COVID-19 to their families and the general public, further adding extra time to their shifts.

“The last thing that nurses or any other health-care provider needs right now is to worry about whether or not they’re going to get a parking ticket,” she said.

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“Some members have told me they’re having to leave COVID-19 planning meetings to go and plug the meter or leave the bedside. That is just unacceptable.”

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While Sorensen says those tickets have largely been cancelled after nurses dispute the charges and explain the situation, she says waiving the fees outright would save time and stress.

She said the provincial government should be doing everything it can to support health-care workers while mobilizing the system’s resources to fight the pandemic and treat patients — and that includes making parking free and ensuring there are spaces to park in hospital lots.

An online petition for the cause has gained over 2,700 signatures as of Sunday afternoon.

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The organizer of the petition, who did not want to be named or interviewed, also sent a letter to Premier John Horgan, Health Minister Adrian Dix and other members of government asking for the fees to be waived.

“I feel for my colleagues in many hospitals who have the extra stress of paying for parking each day on top of everything else we are going through,” the letter reads.

“Health-care workers are understandably anxious and stressed during these times and should not be burdened with additional financial burden and stress when they are risking their health and safety for the greater good.”

Port Coquitlam Mayor Brad West says he has sent a letter to Dix asking him to implement free parking at hospitals.

“I’ve heard people having to run out to pay the meter to add more time in the midst of the craziness they’re dealing with the last thing they should worry about is feeding a meter or adding more time to parking,” he said.

West says parking at hospitals should also be free for visitors and patients.

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Hospital parking fees have been an ongoing struggle in B.C. for years, with earlier petitions and campaigns calling for the removal of fees for not only health-care workers but also for patients and their families.

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Dix called the issue “complicated” when explaining why he wasn’t yet removing the fees late last year, despite NDP members voting in favour of the measure at their latest convention.

“It’s a challenging and complicated issue but it’s one the premier has directed me to look at,” he said at the time.

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Global News has reached out to the health ministry for comment on free parking for health-care workers.

Private companies operate the parking lots in most provincial hospitals and the province uses its profits either for health services or for community hospital foundations.

Those companies, including Impark, did not return requests for comment Sunday.

Dix said last year that the province brought in $40 million in gross revenues from hospital parking in 2017, a dramatic increase from 2002.

—With files from Richard Zussman and Janet Brown

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