© 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.
Health minister will need wisdom of Solomon to please all sides in debate
The politics behind someone having to reach into his or her pocket for a loonie or toonie can oftentimes be more problematic to politicians than multimillion-dollar deals. Such is the case when it comes to the parking fees charged at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Charlottetown.
The often-debated issue of whether QEH visitors should be charged to visit hospital patients came up in the provincial legislature this week. Opposition health critic James Aylward says while many people may think it is a small issue, it’s one that is on the minds of many Islanders, at least the ones he talks to.
In fact, he says it was an issue he heard a lot about while on the doorsteps campaigning in the last election. “(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.”
One would think other issues would create more angst with voters, for example health, education and economic development. But, but as mentioned earlier, voters are more likely to react to things they can easily relate to — loonies and toonies — as opposed to programs and spending in the six- or seven-figure range.
Health Minister Doug Currie says he’s sympathetic when it comes to people having to pay to park at the hospital, but he’s not making any promise on immediately changing the policy. Rather, he plans to seek direction from Health P.E.I.
In tackling the issue, it would help if Mr. Currie had the wisdom of Solomon because it’s a prickly conundrum. The debate revolves around two key issues. One is cold, hard cash, the fact the QEH parking fees raise a much-needed $350,000 a year. The second issue is one of fairness. Why is it acceptable to charge people to park at the QEH but no such charge exists at any other hospital in the province? And in the case of the QEH, the fee can be even more annoying to someone who has had to drive a long distance, eating up a fair bit of gas money.
One radical solution to the loss of revenue at the QEH would be to charge government employees to park at the provincial government complex in Charlottetown. They currently park for free, unlike their fellow workers in the private sector in the capital city who must find other places to leave their vehicles.
But if provincial government workers in Charlottetown were told they must pay for parking, what about provincial workers in other areas of the province? It wouldn’t be fair if they parked for free and their city-working cousins did not. It can be argued that teachers are public servants. If so, should they have to pay to park outside schools? And again, if not, is that fair to the city government workers?
Another option would be reducing the rate people pay to park at the QEH. Perhaps there should be a $2 charge, or some such rate, whether the visitor is there for a short or long visit. After all, people don’t go there for a holiday, they are visiting a family member or friend who is in hospital for a reason. Visitors play an important role in the emotional well-being of patients so they should not be discouraged.
So we look forward to Mr. Currie and his Health P.E.I. officials putting on their thinking caps and coming up with a compromise solution. Of course, one of his answers could be that the QEH parking policy is no different than that of other major hospitals on the mainland. And that parking fees, while understandably an irritant, are just part of the reality of today.
Whether the patient, in this case the electorate, likes that medicine is up for debate.