© Guardian photo by Brian McInnis
Debbie Heald, Queen Elizabeth Hospital parking lot security employee, takes a ticket from a motorist leaving the parking lot Wednesday. Health Minister Doug Currie said in the legislature Wednesday that he may look at the possibility of providing price relief to QEH visitors using the parking lot.
When Amanda Livingston and her family went to say their final goodbyes to her uncle at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Charlottetown, they had to pay to park.
“It’s the last thing you want to think about at a time like that,” Livingston said.
She also had to pay to park her vehicle each time she visited her grandmother.
It’s a nominal parking fee, but when her grandmother was kept in hospital for more than six months, the fees began to add up.
“We had to limit our visiting time to under a half-hour sometimes so we wouldn’t get charged,” Livingston said.
“We just didn’t have the money every single day to stay with her for hours when we would have to pay for parking … I know it’s not a lot of money, but we live paycheque to paycheque and sometimes we just didn’t have it.”
Concerns about the QEH parking fees are raised regularly. Politicians hear often from individuals like Livingston who consider it an unfair financial burden for patients and their families.
That’s why now, Health Minister Doug Currie says he has asked Health P.E.I. to look at whether some relief could be offered.
“I think that we need to look at the policy, look at some areas of that policy that could be a little more flexible, particularly for individuals who may have a loved one or family member admitted for an extended period of time,” Currie said.
He noted some patients have been medically discharged, but remain because they require a level of care but are waiting for a bed in a long-term care facility. Those people must pay for their care at the QEH, yet their families still also must pay for parking.
He also pointed out the QEH is the central acute-care hospital in the province and often patients from rural areas must incur the expense of travelling to Charlottetown to visit loved ones or attend appointments.
They too must pay to park.
Health P.E.I. has long said the $350,000 in annual revenues generated from the parking fees are needed to help fund essential health services at QEH.
Currie says that revenue is important, especially at a time of increased pressures on P.E.I.’s health budget.
But has been hearing the concerns of many Islanders who feel unfairly taxed by these fees.
He’s not making any promises, however.
“I’m not prepared right now to make any changes until Health P.E.I. comes back to me with some numbers.”
Opposition health critic James Aylward brought the issue up during budget estimates this week.
He says it may seem like a small issue, but Islanders feel it is unnecessary financial burden, especially since all other hospitals in the province offer free parking.
“(Islanders) feel like they’re being nickeled and dimed,” he said.
“The hospital is paid for by taxpayers, it’s an essential service that we all rely on.”
Aylward noted it was a key issue on the doorsteps during the last election, and also that the cost of fees and services have been raised substantially by the province over the last few years.
“It’s not big money but it’s just nickel and diming and people are getting fed up,” Aylward said.
Currie said he hopes to provide some relief on the fees, but was careful not to promise to eliminate them altogether.
If you ask Livingston, that’s doesn’t go far enough.
“I think it should be free,” she said.
“The workers there don’t have to pay, so why should we? Does Doug Currie pay to go in there? Something has to be done.”