Like most Island families I've had to make many lengthy visits to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital.
It happens to most of us, at one time or another, and lately, for me, it's occurring more often in order to help and comfort family members and friends. A complication of our aging years.
The QEH is an excellent facility. It's a referral hospital for the entire province. It treats some of the most serious ailments and illnesses that often require days and weeks of treatment.
Many of the patients are aging and from rural P.E.I. For their families, there are many other costs just to get to Charlottetown. From transportation, gas, coffee and food and sometimes lodging. Then on top, there is the parking fee at the QEH. The first 30 minutes are free, then $1.50 for the first hour, to a maximum of $7 a day. That doesn't sound like a lot of money, but for most hard-working Island families it all adds up.
The QEH is the only Island hospital that puts that burden on visitors. It increases the stress, irritation and inconvenience of visiting and comforting a sick family member or friend.
It's mercenary and uncaring and some believe it can become a barrier to health care and recovery.
The parking fee doesn't collect a lot of money - $375,000 a year, but it's just “nickel and diming" the families who need the QEH's expert medical care.
Government already collects over $873 million in taxes from Islanders, $31 million in licenses and permits and another $34 million in fees and services for a wide variety of things like motor vehicles licenses, permits and court fees. Through hard earned tax dollars, paid by Islanders, the QEH was built and continues to be maintained. Parking fees are simply another tax and a burden placed on Islanders by government.
But with regards to parking at the QEH, it's also the process of picking up the parking ticket, going through the barriers, finding a parking space if possible, and then again stopping at the booth on the way out to pay.
The parking fees are part of Health P.E.I.’s $738 million expenditure on public and private health services. The QEH budget is well over $118 million dollars.
Health P.E.I. officials say they can't eliminate parking fees, unless they replace it with another revenue source.
But why not reduce, or streamline some costs, rather than continue the ever expanding costs of health care.
The Canadian Institute for Health Information recently pointed out that 7.5 per cent of every health care dollar on Prince Edward Island is spent on administration. Five times higher than the other Atlantic Provinces.
Why can't we find ways to reduce those administrative, bureaucratic costs and remove the $375,000 in parking fees?
James Aylward is the MLA for Stratford-Kinlock