Russ Curnew (front) and (from left) Eileen Hetherington

Russ Curnew (front) and (from left) Eileen Hetherington

Singers demand free parking at Ridge hospital

Volunteers at a Maple Ridge hospital were penalized with fines even though they had passes.

After they left the crowd of seniors at  Baillie House on Sunday, still humming Christmas carols, the band members of the Rx Rockers returned to their cars to find a Grinch-like surprise. The band’s seasonal good cheer was washed away by $60 parking tickets from Impark.

That, despite the fact the volunteer performers had been given parking passes by the Baillie House activity coordinator, which were displayed on their dashboards.

“It’s not her fault, it’s Impark, and they should be run out of town,” said band member Russ Curnew.

He doesn’t think people should have to pay to park at Baillie House, Ridge Meadows Hospital or at any Fraser Health facility.

Curnew called Mayor Ernie Daykin on Sunday, and by early Monday morning had already received a response. The tickets were reversed.

But the incident has left him and the other members of the band ready to champion the cause of free hospital parking in Maple Ridge.

“I feel very strongly. Enough’s enough, and something’s got to change,” said Curnew.

These are not vindictive people: The Rx Rockers will do several free Christmas concerts in Maple Ridge this year. They never get paid, although they are happy to share in a Christmas dinner, if one is offered.

“We’re just a volunteer group who like to entertain seniors,” said Curnew.

However, they point out, municipal governments in Delta and Mission have both passed bylaws forbidding paid parking at their hospitals, and the Rx Rockers would like to see Maple Ridge follow suit.

Curnew advised Daykin that people would appreciate him getting rid of hospital parking in the district.

“I told him ‘This would be a hell of a legacy for you.’

“It’s going to affect everyone at one time.”

Group singer Eileen Hetherington said she has learned by speaking to people about this issue that volunteers in Maple Ridge are ticketed on a regular basis – despite many displaying parking permits.

“They ticket everyone.”

She said if there is free hospital parking anywhere in Fraser Health, it should be offered everywhere.

“If some places can do it, why not all?” asks Hetherington. “They’re all Fraser Health.”

Gord Quinn feels for those volunteers who obligingly paid the ticket – before it rises from $60 to $80 after a week unpaid.

“There is going to be a non-vocal minority who say nothing, and just pay it,” said Quinn.

All of those funds go to Impark. Fraser Health receives the parking revenue, but not the enforcement fines.

Another band member, Roy Fitchett, has had health battles, and notes that his wife has paid hundreds of dollars in parking fees just to visit him in the hospital.

His fine, while entertaining seniors, was “a slap in the face.” He believes Fraser Health has lost volunteers over Impark’s overzealous ticketing, and predicts local health care facilities will lose more.

The Canadian Medical Association Journal took aim at this issue last year, and in an editorial Dr. Rajendra Kale called parking fees at hospitals a barrier to health care which add avoidable stress, and a possible violation of the Health Act.

Fraser Health spokesman Roy Thorpe-Dorward said paid parking is not simply a revenue source, it also ensures a rotation of vehicles in the parking lot, and that people aren’t using the parking lot when not attending Fraser Health facilities.

He said projected parking revenues from all Fraser Health sites for the 2012-13 fiscal year is $11.4 million. The cost of operating paid parking is $2.7 million. The overall operating budget for Fraser Health is approximately $2.6 billion. Revenue from parking makes up less than half of one per cent.

Projected revenues from Fraser Health’s Maple Ridge parking sites for 2012-13 fiscal year is approximately $500,000, and the cost of operating these services is about $78,000.

Snow clearing, lighting, security patrols and repaving is paid through parking revenue, and this money would have to come from other sources – money that currently supports direct health care services would need to be used, said Thorpe-Dorward.

Fraser Health sets parking rates, restrictions and fines, but does not take part in patrol and enforcement. It does not receive revenues from parking tickets, and reserves the right to cancel tickets.

It has hardship provisions in place to waive fees where they will pose a genuine challenge to families, and offers alternatives such as transit vouchers.

He said Fraser Health would want to be part of talks about a parking bylaw affecting its facilities in Maple Ridge before it was passed.

“We’re committed to working with our communities,” said Thorpe-Dorward. “We would hope they would involve us in those discussions.”

Coun. Bob Masse is a health care practitioner, a chiropractor, and a member of Maple Ridge council. He would like to see the district explore whether hospital users here should be required to pay for parking.

“I think it’s an excellent question,” he said. “My initial reaction would be no,” to paid parking.

He noted the district had designated residential side streets in the area of the hospital “residents only” parking, because hospital-goers, many of them employees, were lining the side streets.

Fraser Health employees must also pay for parking.

The first-term councillor was unaware that two municipalities don’t support Fraser Health with parking revenue.

“It’s a point worth considering.”