Well, it’s official, the Town of Parry Sound has implemented free parking on municipal streets and in the Town’s parking lots, and already we have a parking controversy.

Parking isn’t free by any measure, someone has to pay for it. In the case of the Town of Parry Sound the decision was made that the residents and businesses of Parry Sound would pick up the costs. These costs include maintenance of the lots and street parking spots, think snow plowing, line painting, litter pickup, and repaving. What is not clear is how these expenses will be covered in the long term. The expenses for the near term will be covered by the balance in Parking Reserve. It should last for a couple of years, but beyond that free parking will need to be covered through higher taxes or reduced services in other areas. I wouldn’t be surprised to discover that Council will look to reducing services. That may well be the best alternative, but we’ll see.

Today’s parking controversy concerns the plan to charge for parking at the new medical building. I understand that the charge may range from $2 to $5, depending on how long one is parked there.

It seems charging for parking, when associated with medical treatment is not considered fair by many people. Medical treatment is free. Why should there be an associated charge to receive medical treatment? Because someone has to pay, and parking really isn’t free.

I have no inside information but I expect that the negotiations for the new medical building involved the landlord accepting a lower rental rate from the medical practices in exchange for the right to charge a nominal parking fee that would cover the costs of building the parking area, and its ongoing maintenance. It certainly seems a reasonable approach for the medical practices if the alternative was higher rent.

Healthcare funds are limited and hopefully directed to areas that can provide the best outcomes for patients; more physicians, more nurses, more staff, better facilities, and better equipment. That seems reasonable. Should we provide free parking and reduce office hours. Would you like to wait another two days to see a physician in exchange for free parking?

As I draft this post I’m sitting in a waiting area at the St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto. I assure you that parking in Toronto is not free. I can also assure you that all day parking isn’t priced at $5.00, it’s $26.00.

It’s interesting to realize that there now are only three location in Parry Sound that currently charge, or intend to charge, for parking. These are the West Parry Sound Health Centre, a flat $5.00 for up to all day parking, the Belvedere Heights retirement facility, a $2.00 flat rate, and in the near future the Medical Clinic, with parking fees ranging from $2.00 to $5.00 for a full day. I think these charges reflect the financial realities faced by all of our publicly funded healthcare services.

So what can be done? There are a few options for people visiting the new medical clinic:

  1. Get dropped off and then picked up. It’s simple and can save a couple of bucks. If you live close enough you could even walk to the appointment, weather permitting.
  2. Park at the Home Depot and walk down to the medical centre. It’s not that far and it provides for a little bit of exercise. Not all people can manage this type of walk, or are willing to make this type of effort, especially with winter weather. So it works for some, but not all. I guess you could also park at the Shoppers Drug Mart if you are a customer there. It’s even closer than the Home Depot lot but has more limited parking.
  3. Pay the $2, $3 or $5 and be done with it. Walk fewer steps and pay for the privilege.

But there is another possibility. Get the medical practices to pay for your parking, but only if they keep you waiting.

Here’s how it would work. If you have a regular appointment at 10:00 you probably should be seen no later than 10:10 if the operation is being properly run. Add in about 20 minutes to fill out paperwork, visit with the physician or nurse practitioner, and you should be out of there by 10:30, with a $2 or $3 parking charge.

But most often things run late, and the 10:00 or 2:00 appointment runs a half hour or more late. At this point you are spending more than an hour at the clinic for a 10-minute visit. It’s at this point that the medical clinic should pay for your parking. There is currently no consequence for their being late and keeping you waiting. The medical community effectively operates a monopoly, and if you don’t like the service, you really don’t any option. You need to suck it up.

So having the clinic pay for your parking, be it $3 or $5, may provide a little bit of motivation for the clinic to deliver service on time, every time. It’s not unlike the type of small perk that restaurants will provide their customers when expectations are not met, perhaps a free desert if the service is unreasonably slow.

The bottom line is that there is no free parking. Someone needs to pick up the charge. Asking the builder to subsidize the healthcare system is unreasonable in my opinion. They have taken the financial risk to build a first-class facility for the benefit of medical staff and patients. Perhaps the medical clinics should be asked to shoulder the cost and provide free parking, but since they are dealing with capitated type funding it might mean they would need to reduce services. This could lead to even longer times spent by patients in the waiting room, less time with the physician and nurse, or delaying an appointment by a day or more.

Why not just have patients chip in the $2 or $3 when they use the parking facility? It seems to not only be reasonable, it also seems to be fair. Those that use the resource pay for it.

Canadians are a little bit spoiled in terms of medical treatments and costs. The system is basically free, with of course some notable exceptions. By way of reference, while living the US, and no longer covered by a Fortune 500 Company type health plan, we needed to get private health coverage. We were both in our 50s, and in excellent health. The cost? $6,000 per year in annual premiums, with a $10,000 deductible. That meant we were responsible for all health costs, outside of an annual preventative care visit, at the insurance company negotiated rates, for the first $10,000 of costs. In a worst case situation, let’s say an appendectomy, our health costs would have been $16,000 that year, plus a percentage of the costs above the first $10,000. And the next year the deductible would be reset at another $10,000.

Yes, in Canada we pay for healthcare through our federal and provincial taxes. But the majority of people who are benefiting most from the healthcare system have been shielded from the true cost of the healthcare that they receive. That’s okay with me. I would rather be healthy and contribute to the treatment of others, than be the beneficiary of the system.

So pay the $2, or $3, or even $5 and make your coffee at home that day instead of stopping by your favourite coffee shop. Your contribution to parking helps ensure we all receive better healthcare service. Or park at Home Depot and get a little bit of exercise. Don’t blame the builder that has provided the Parry Sound area with a first-class medical facility. They have done their part. We need to do ours.

Parking is not free.

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