Front-line workers struggle to access affordable parking at Maple Ridge, B.C. hospital

Click to play video: 'Ridge Meadows Hospital staff complain about parking' Ridge Meadows Hospital staff complain about parking
WATCH: Staff at Ridge Meadows Hospital say their staff parking program is broken, with applications for reduced-rate parking being denied, despite a half-empty lot. Emad Agahi reports. – Apr 19, 2022

It’s been more than a month since pay parking returned to B.C. hospitals, and some health-care staff in Maple Ridge say they’ve been unable to access reduced rates for employees.

Julie Zehner, a nursing unit co-ordinator at Ridge Meadows Hospital, said she applied three times in three different ways to access the staff parking rate of roughly $23 per month.

Her applications for a monthly payroll deduction, a six-month prepayment program and an annual prepayment program were all rejected.

“There are some staff members here that do have the monthly payroll deduction,” she said. “They’ve been here for a long time, but I find it really unfair that I have to pay the $70 a month versus $23 a month.”

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During the COVID-19 pandemic, the provincial government froze parking fees at hospitals and treatment centres to ease the burden on front-line workers and patients. The fees were reinstated on March 4.

The daily rate for staff parking at Ridge Meadows Hospital is $3.50, which works out to about $70 per month for a full-time employee.

When parking was free, Zehner said the lots were so full, she was sometimes late for work while circling them to find an empty spot. There’s vacant space now, but she said she was told there are 315 people ahead of her on a waitlist for the monthly payroll deduction program.

“In my department that I work in, other than a couple of people that already have the payroll deduction, everyone’s been denied,” she said. “The only one that everybody’s approved for is the daily staff (rate).”

Click to play video: 'Parking problems at BC Women’s Hospital' Parking problems at BC Women’s Hospital
Parking problems at BC Women’s Hospital – Apr 7, 2022

Zehner has now received five parking tickets at the hospital for a total of $409.25 — a sum she said she can’t afford to pay and shouldn’t have to as an employee.

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She is not the only Ridge Meadows Hospital staffer to have written Global News about the waitlist to access affordable parking.

Aman Grewal, president of the BC Nurses’ Union, said the pandemic is ongoing, and nurses and all other health-care staff should “be given a break.” Grewal said she has heard numerous staff complaints about inability to access affordable parking at hospitals since the province reinstated fees.

“In other professions you don’t have to pay to park to work,” she said.

“The nurse that’s working a 12-hour shift and has to extend their shift, they shouldn’t be worried about going out to plug their meter or extend their pay parking. They need to be caring for the patient, they shouldn’t have that added stress.”

Read more: Return of pay parking at B.C. hospitals hurts universal access to health care: critics

The Fraser Health Authority directed a request for comment on this story to the Provincial Health Services Authority, which did not respond by Global News’ deadline.

In a Tuesday news conference, Health Minister Adrian Dix said it was always the government’s intention to reinstate parking fees at hospitals.

“As for the individual challenge, I’m not aware of the specific issue in Maple Ridge but that’s something that of course we’ll take a look at to try and make things easier for staff as well,” Dix said.

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When the province announced pay parking would return to hospitals and treatment centres, it said many general motorists had abused the system, and filled up hospital parking lots meant for patients and staff. The freeze on fees further cost the government $78 million.

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