Parking: the hidden cost of being sick!

‘Oh dear. That’ll cost you. Visiting time ended three minutes ago’

My latest adventure in experiencing the Canadian healthcare system first hand as a patient started on May 11th 2016. On that day I was visiting my Family Doctor for a regular appointment and, perhaps with some form of precognition, I actually parked in the car park for her office building, rather than in the free two-hour parking a short walk away which I would normally do. That decision saved me the cost of an expensive parking ticket, as I certainly wasn’t back at my car within two hours.

However, it cost me $5.00 to park in that car park. My ambulance ride that day cost $45.00.

So just my initial anaphylaxis cost $50.00.

Over the next few weeks, as I didn’t recover well, I returned to see my Family Doctor several times and started initial testing at my local hospital. At this point, parking a few streets away from my Family Doctor’s office was no longer an option. Neither is there an unpaid parking option available at my local hospital. Each visit cost me $5.00 to see my family doctor or $6.00 to visit the hospital.

By the end of June, I was signed off work and referred to several more specialists and underwent several more tests, most of which were at the hospital. Each visit incurring parking fees of $6.00.

Yesterday, I visited a different medical building and it was almost cheaper. Except that there are several medical buildings in the same area of a busy road and I misjudged which one was the one that I was looking for. It cost me $3.00 to pull off the road, to be able to see the building number and leave again when I was in the wrong one. I was in that car park less than two minutes. It still cost me $3.00. It cost another $3.00 in parking for the correct building.

So I added it up today….

By the end of next week, I will have visited my family doctor eight times at a cost of $5.00 each time just for parking. That’s $40.00

I will have visited the hospital to see a specialist, or for testing, eight times at a cost of $6.00 each time for parking. That’s $48.00

My mistake yesterday meant that my one visit to a different medical building still cost me $6.00 (though admittedly it should have only cost me $3.00).

I’ve also visited three other medical offices that did not charge for parking!! Thankfully, my Family Doctor is moving next month to a building that offers free parking.

So, to date, it has cost me $94.00 in parking alone and $139.00 if you include the ambulance ride.

Now if I knew that I was going to be at the hospital more than eleven times in a month, to make it cost effective, then I could buy a monthly pass for $66.67; but so far I haven’t quite made it to eleven visits and I don’t know in advance so that doesn’t help me.

Now oddly enough, being sick is expensive. You’d think that being housebound would be cheaper but it actually costs me more than when I’m going to work. I do save on gas for my car but I’m using more electricity at home as I’m home all day and Netflix and the Internet are pretty much my only companions. I’ve also had to have Air Conditioning and an Air Purifier installed. The day-to-day running of which will also now increase my electricity bill.

I’ve managed to do a couple of grocery shops but for the most part, I’m currently reliant on other people to shop for me. They are wonderful for doing so and I greatly appreciate it. But when somebody shops for you, they don’t make the same decisions that you do. So when the fruit juice that I would usually get wasn’t available they get the closest that they can, knowing that I’m bored of drinking water alone. Which is very kind, but it cost double the brand that I would normally get. Likewise, when you shop in bits and pieces, as needed, it tends to be more expensive than the big monthly bulk shop that I would usually do. I’m also eating far more than usual because the steroids make me hungry and I’m bored!

Added to which, Amazon, EBay and Etsy are very compelling sites to explore when you’re housebound, bored and they deliver to your door! As a result, in the last few weeks, I finally got round to ordering Kai a new vest from Patience and Love and boots for his feet from RuffWear.

Thankfully, I have good initial sickness insurance through my work so while I am now claiming Employment Insurance (Sickness Benefits) I’m not on a reduced income yet. Though if this sickness continues that is an issue that I will have to deal with.

However, as you can see my day-to-day expenses have gone up.

Now on top of that, I have to find the additional $5-6.00 every time I go to see a doctor or have a test.

I’m paying to be sick!

Just to add insult to injury I noticed something while I was waiting in the reception area at one of these office buildings today. The receptionist was giving out parking tokens to select individuals. So I watched to see why some people were given these tokens and not others. It turned out that the people being given the parking tokens were registered donors to the Trust!

So the people that are wealthy enough to be able to donate significant funds towards the costs of medical equipment, for which I’m very grateful, don’t have to pay to park!

Yet those of us that are also sick, but that can’t afford to donate towards that same equipment do!

So now I’m not only paying to be sick; I’m paying because I’m not wealthy and sick!

There’s something wrong with this.

In fact, there’s just something inherently wrong with charging people to park at hospitals and medical centres anyway.

Especially, when you have to pay for every visit; it’s not even one fee for a 24-hour period. So if you are unfortunate enough to have somebody staying as an inpatient that you wanted to visit several times a day you’d be paying to park on every occasion. That soon adds up!

Now, I could use public transport. It would be cheaper – just $2.50 per trip and I could buy a 20 ride pass for $40.00, or a monthly pass for $60.00, saving more money. However, remember my circumstances: I’m housebound and avoiding all possible exposures to scents and allergens as much as possible. It literally wouldn’t be safe for me to get the bus. Not least the fact, that while I don’t live far from a bus stop it’s way beyond the distance I can walk currently.

I could take a taxi if I was willing to risk that the taxi would be scent free and that there would be no issues with them over transporting my Service Dog. The cost each way would be $12.50 on average, $25.00 for a round trip. The parking fee of $6.00 doesn’t look quite so bad in comparison suddenly!

Now I’m currently that limited physically that I would be eligible to use the Parabus, which provides door-to-door service for the disabled. However, applying to be approved for the service takes 5-10 days and my understanding is that actually booking the bus is becoming almost impossible. While bookings can be made up to two weeks in advance demand for the service is so high that people are reporting that if they don’t book almost two weeks in advance that they can’t get service. Of course, for me, the problem would be that to book the service I have to call them. There is no apparent way of booking it without using the telephone. Once again, being deaf and having a mobility disability at the same time is apparently not considered. (Though perhaps the City’s TTY number would be usable for this service if I had TTY). Also, I haven’t had two weeks notice for almost any of my appointments. Most often I have a day or two’s notice and sometimes, like today, just a few minutes notice as my appointments are often being scheduled at short notice to fit me in as an urgent case.

I’m not alone with my concerns about the costs of parking at hospitals. In January the Ontario Government mandated a freeze on parking fees restricting the maximum fee to $10 per day as of the 1 October 2016. It will be interesting to see what impact this has on my local hospital. Right now their fee is $6.00, but that is per use. So if somebody comes and goes several times within a day they can easily exceed that maximum of $10.00.

Even the Canadian Parking Association has commented on the high cost of hospital parking, making a number of recommendations, not least that staff should be paying more realistic fees for parking rather than putting most of the burden on patients.

Regardless of how we do it, there has to be a better way.

When you’re sat in the Emergency Room waiting to be seen the last thing that you need to be worrying about is whether or not you have $6.00 to be able to get out of the car park.

When you’re in the hospital as a patient the last thing that you need is to be worrying about whether or not your visitors can really afford the $6.00 it cost them to come and visit you that day.

When you’re sick trying to get to a bank to withdraw cash so that you can use the change machines at the hospital to acquire the appropriate stash of loonies and toonies is an unnecessary burden.

If I do end up needing to be admitted to the hospital, and I’m not able to take Kai (my service dog) outside to potty myself, then I will have to include the cost of parking with the cost of paying a dog walker, or having a friend, come and take him out several times a day. That will soon add up.

I understand that our hospitals are underfunded and that the funds from parking are desperately needed. However, there is something just inherently wrong to me in expecting me to pay to be sick!

There has to be a better way!

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