Fraser Health not ready to give up on pay parking at Delta Hospital

Fraser Health hasn't given up trying to implement pay parking at Delta Hospital.

Spokesperson Roy Thorpe-Forward said the region has a study underway looking at demand at the hospital and potential solutions to address the municipality's concern about overflow in nearby areas.

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The region should have the study completed and presented to Delta council next spring, he noted.

Hospital pay parking has been in the news recently after a Canadian Medical Association Journal editorial by Dr. Rajendra Kale stated pay parking charges are just "user fees in disguise" that flout the Canada Health Act. The editorial advocated abolishing parking fees for patients.

Adding to the controversy were reports that B.C. hospitals and health authorities netted $23.8 million (Fraser Health collecting $14 million) last year in parking revenues from patients, visitors and employees.

Delta council made a pre-emptive strike against Fraser Health last year by giving final approval to a bylaw banning pay parking at Delta Hospital that was originally introduced six years earlier.

At the time the bylaw was rushed through, Delta CAO George Harvie said he and the mayor had inquiries from the health authority about revenue opportunities, including the possibility of introducing pay parking at the Ladner hospital.

He said the bylaw was needed because the health authority had the ability to install parking meters. If a bylaw was passed after meters were installed, the meters could have remained, becoming a legal non-conforming use.

At the time, a health region official pointed out Delta already has pay parking at the Tsawwasen ferry terminal.

Mission also passed a bylaw prohibiting pay parking at its hospital, making it the only other community in the Lower Mainland not to charge hospital parking fees.

At a public meeting in Ladner last year, Fraser Health CEO Dr. Nigel Murray said Delta's ban has resulted in an estimated annual revenue loss of $440,000. Murray said he's hoping both sides could find "mutually agreeable solutions."

Health region officials would go on to meet with Delta councillors regarding the issue and were told that the municipality doesn't want to change its bylaw.

Coun. Robert Campbell told the Optimist last week, "We've pretty much told them (Fraser Health) no for a number of reasons. They haven't got back to us."

One of the points in the FHA's case is there isn't enough parking for patients and staff, said Campbell, who noted the health region owns enough land around the hospital to easily create a gravel parking lot for staff if needed.

He noted that in addition to the principle of charging patients and family to park at the community's hospital, another major concern is a spillover onto adjacent streets and at the Ladner Leisure Centre and Delta Sport Development Centre. Campbell said he doesn't see how the health region can come up with a solution for that.

Asked about the possibility the government would impose pay parking on Delta on behalf of the health region, Campbell doubted the province would resort to that tactic.

Elaine Canning, past president of the Delta Hospital Auxiliary, said the position of the volunteer auxiliary hasn't changed when it comes to pay parking.

"This dates back many years ago to a gentleman's agreement. This is all about the care and comfort of patients in Delta Hospital and if they're stressed out about pay parking or how they can visit their family on a daily basis, it's certainly a major burden on them," said Canning.

"If all the regions need extra money for funding or whatever, they need to go back and take another look at their accounting, but certainly not on the backs of those who are sick. They've got enough problems without being hassled over paying for parking."

Delta Hospital stakeholders and consultants are in the final stages of developing a master site plan that could see new services, as well as building additions, in the future. When work on the site plan was about to get underway earlier this year, a senior clinical planner at an information meeting noted pay parking is still an issue that needs to be dealt with through the municipal bylaw.

However, Thorpe-Forward, when asked if potential additions required pay parking, said there's no requirement in the new plan. Issues need to be explored as far as the adequacy of available parking at the hospital if there are future expansions, he added.

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