Jane Bowron: Hospital parking: It's enough to make you sick to the stomach

Alex Dexter pays $20 each day to visit Madden, his first-born premature son, in Auckland's Middlemore Hospital.
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Alex Dexter pays $20 each day to visit Madden, his first-born premature son, in Auckland's Middlemore Hospital.

OPINION: How many times have you visited family and friends in hospital and nearly blown a gasket when called upon to cough up obscene sums of money for parking fees?

 Visitors of the sick and dying are taken advantage of by greedy car park owners who know that people are so anxious to see their loved ones they will shell out the required dosh to see them. Even if they don't have the money, they will risk paying a fine for the greater good of cheering someone up, in order to offer support and advocacy.

 And there's the rub. We feel mean at quibbling about shelling out money to visit a poorly friend or family member, and some hospital car park owners capitalise on these mixed emotions.

It is perfectly reasonable to charge a small fee for parking for hospital visitors, as free parking might encourage ...
NICHOLAS MCBRIDE/FAIRFAX NZ

It is perfectly reasonable to charge a small fee for parking for hospital visitors, as free parking might encourage families and friends to swamp hospitals.

 Patients too are well aware of the financial cost a friend or relative may be incurring and will urge their visitors to stay only a short while for fear of them being hit with a heavy fine. 

The psychological benefits of having one's nearest and dearest come to see you when you're often at your lowest are obvious. Their support is a necessary part of the recovery, and a great boost for a patient who may be feeling alienated in the clinical and strange environment of a hospital.

 They may be sharing a ward and feeling unloved and a little blue observing their fellow patients receiving more visitors than them. Who wants to be pitied lying prone in a hospital cot? Yes, I know it's not a competition to see how many people you can gather round the bedside, but these thoughts cross the mind, particularly when you're not feeling the best.

So bravo to Alex Dexter, who started an online petition after having spent $140 a week on parking to visit his premature first-born son and ailing wife in Auckland's Middlemore Hospital. 

 That's a lot of extra money to find, particularly for the low-waged struggling to pay mortgages, rents and utilities, and keep a car registered, warranted and full of petrol. Dexter wants people to sign a petition calling for free parking for hospital staff, and subsidised parking for visiting patients.

 The argument that hefty parking fees act as a deterrent to using cars and instead to frequent public transport doesn't wash when there's a life and death situation.

Stuck on a meandering bus, particularly in Auckland, where a 20-minute route can take well over an hour, is not an option if you need to be immediately bedside at births and deaths. And there are plenty of buses that simply don't arrive on schedule, or at all with no explanation given.

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Visitors wouldn't feel so ripped off if they knew that the car park was owned by a district health board and the money was being ploughed back into the hospital. Certain car park owners are notorious for being ruthless rip-off merchants and shouldn't be allowed to "operate", excuse the pun, in cooey of a hospital. 

 It is perfectly reasonable to charge a small fee for parking for visitors, as free parking might encourage abuse from families and friends swamping hospitals and making nuisances of themselves to staff, and overwhelming the patient.

The cosy incubator heating of hospitals, which often makes you want to strip off to your smalls, might encourage the freezing hordes in winter to come in from the cold. But that is another vexed matter. 

 Perhaps patients should be allotted one free or heavily subsidised car parking ticket, which they would have to register with the car park owner. Maybe there's an opening here for an Uber-type operator who could run affordable hospital shuttles from all suburbs to drop and pick visitors up via text. We have the technology – if you have the money on your phone.  

Departing patients are heavily dependent on a friend or family member to pick them up in a car to take all their belongings and additional hospital apparatus that is too cumbersome to be ferried by bus, taxi, or shuttle.

We have become so used to user-pays that, instead of raging against the machine, we silently stew in anger and resentment when the state doesn't pick up the tab.

 Alex Dexter has done what we have all forgotten, or have been too beaten down, to do and that is to raise an objection to a deeply unfair parking system in hospitals. He can't do it on his own, which is why we need all pens to the petition. 

This may stir the stumps of the prime minister to focus long enough to utter the compassionate words that his Government might "think about it",  as he has done about the water issue

 - The Dominion Post

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