Gary Hee has been campaigning for free parking at Langley Memorial and other hospitals since 2018. Lately, he’s been getting attention on social media because of the viral safety messages on his truck (Gary Hee/special to Langley Advance Times)

Free hospital parking announcement didn’t go far enough, critic says

Temporary lifting of fees during COVID-19 outbreak should be permanent according to Gary Hee

A decision to temporarily eliminate pay parking at B.C. hospitals and provincially-owned health care facilities didn’t go far enough to suit Gary Hee, organizer of a petition to eliminate fees at the Langley Memorial Hospital (LMH) ER.

“They should make it permanent,” Hee told the Langley Advance Times.

Hee was commenting on the Monday, March 30th announcement by provincial health minister Adrian Dix, who said pay parking would be suspended as of April 1st at hospitals and health care facilities in order to reduce transmission of the COVID-19 coronavirus.

Dix said the change would allow people “to avoid touching screens and buttons at payment kiosks that may have been touched by someone previously, and also supports physical distancing measures that have been mandated by our provincial health officer.”

A statement by the Fraser Health Authority, which includes LMH, said the general public, staff and medical staff are all covered by the announcement.

On the same day, an online petition on Change.org, “COVID-19: Allow free hospital parking for BC’s health care workers” had collected more than 10,000 signatures.

It was launched in response to complaints that nurses and doctors working extra-long shifts were getting tickets for expired parking passes.

“British Columbia’s healthcare workers are working harder than ever to keep the people of BC safe during the COVID-19 public health crisis,” organizer Rimona Lee said.

“Let’s lessen the burden on our frontline workers.”

One of the people who signed the online petition was Hee, who called ticketing medical staff for parking at the hospitals where they work “outrageous.”

Hee, a Cloverdale resident, launched his petition in April of 2019, asking LMH and both Langley City and Township “to implement ways and means to collaborate to remove parking fees placed upon us or our vehicles while attending the hospital emergency department premises for medical reasons during and up to a four hour period.”

He collected more than 4,000 signatures on paper.

But when he presented his petition to the Fraser Health Authority, Hee was told the contract with Imperial Parking could not be changed.

Hee then directed the petition to Parliament to have it ban ER parking fees and fines by adding a bylaw to the Canada Health Act.

It was rejected over what Hee calls “formatting” issues in the document that he is planning to fix and resubmit once the COVID-19 outbreak is over.

READ MORE: Campaign against hospital parking fees is gathering momentum: organizer

READ MORE: More than 4,200 names on Cloverdale man’s petition to end hospital parking fees

BC Nurses’ Union president Christine Sorensen welcomed the parking decision, saying the BCNU “is pleased to hear the government is listening to nurses and will wave parking fees at all health authority-owned health facilities in BC for not only all health care workers, but patients and visitors, too.”

“The COVID-19 pandemic is the biggest challenge our health care system has ever seen, which is why it is critical that the government stands with our nurses in every way it can,” the Sorensen statement said.

“This means ensuring every nurse has access to personal protective equipment and N95 masks, that child-care options are there for families, clean scrubs are available, and free parking is implemented at all hospitals so that a nurse or health care worker doesn’t have to worry about facing a stiff parking fine after a 14-hour shift.”

In a related development, a nurse created a petition to get the City of Vancouver to suspend parking metre fines for medical staff.

A statement by the nurse, posted on the Change.org petition, “Free Parking in Vancouver for all Healthcare workers during COVID-19,” said to avoid exposure on public transit, “I have been driving my car into work and paying for parking. With an increase in staff shortages, sometimes our shifts get extended and we end up working 16 hours. The last thing we are thinking when we take those extra hours is extending the parking meter.”

As of Monday, more than 12,000 had signed.



dan.ferguson@langleyadvancetimes.com

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