Frontline workers petitioning to keep free parking at hospitals during pandemic

The entrance to Kingston General Hospital on Stuart Street, where parking spaces are regularly unavailable. Photo by Lucas Mulder.

Sascha Davis had never had to pay for parking at her job in her life… That is, until she started working for Kingston General Hospital (KGH) in December of 2010. At first she was paying $10 per shift, then $15 per shift, then $20 per shift, just so she could park her car.

As a unit clerk in different departments in the hospital, she is constantly running around and does not always have time to go back to her parking spot to top up the meter. She says that in 2018 she paid $660 in parking tickets handed to her by the parking patrol, and in 2019 she paid $520.

“As a part-time worker, it’s almost sinking me,” she said. “Sometimes I refuse shifts simply because I can’t afford to park.”

According to KGH’s website, there are 440 inpatient beds, plus visitors, 5,000 employees and 2,000 healthcare learners from Queen’s University, and 1,000 volunteers. There are 52 parking spots in a waterfront parking lot and another lot that has 28 spots. Other than that, it is street parking and a parking garage, which is also shared with Queen’s University.

So when the City of Kingston suspended the parking fees and the spots became free out of appreciation and respect for the frontline workers during the global COVID-19 health crisis, Davis and many of her coworkers breathed a sigh of relief because it was one thing that they did not have to worry about.

“I felt a great relief and pride when the City of Kingston stepped up and gave the front line hospital workers free parking during the COVID-19 crisis,” Davis said in an email to the City, that was forwarded to Kingstonist. “It was a relief to not have parking added on the long list of stress in all of our lives during this state of unknown.”

However, on Monday, Jun 8, 2020, the City reinstated the parking fees as part of the first stage to having people pay for parking again in downtown Kingston. That means the first area to start the fees again was the hospital and University district, despite the fact the state of emergency enforced by the province has been extended for another 30 days.

Other parts of downtown have not started charging for parking yet and when Davis sent an email to the City of Kingston to express her complaint and disappointment with the city, she received an email which she deemed as upsetting.

The email from Sheila Kidd, the Commissioner for Transportation and Public Works, which said the same thing that Kingstonist received when reaching out to the City and the Chief Administrative Officer, Lanie Hurdle, for comment on this story, read:

“Please be assured that we appreciate the dedication of our health care workers and the additional stress workers face during this period. The reinstated parking restrictions should have little to no impact on staff members of the KHSC.”

According to the email, the City is enforcing payment in the metered spaces and lots closest to the hospital areas, and these spaces have always been intended for patients, visitors and short-term parkers even during the suspended payment period.

The email, that Kingstonist also received, then went on to explain that hundreds of un-metered on-street parking spaces will remain available and that those commuting or parking for the day can continue to park in any street.

According to the City, CAO Hurdle, and Commissioner Kidd, the City decided to reinstate the fees closest to the hospital because, from their observations, the parking that was originally intended for visitors, patients and quick drop-offs and pick-ups were being taken by hospital staff.

“Unfortunately we also observed a dramatic increase in vehicles parked on sidewalks and in no parking areas, along with complaints from patients and visitors that no nearby parking was available,” said all three emails. “We were able to manage this during the initial weeks of the closures however with the increase in surgeries and procedures planned, we now need those workers to move into the adjacent block so the closest spaces are there for those that need it most.”

The email also added that free transit was still available.

Despite transit being free for frontline workers, many of Davis’s coworkers are hesitant to use the bus, partly because the hours are reduced, and partly because, if another outbreak were to occur in Kingston, it would be unsafe for the frontline workers and other passengers to be aboard the bus together.

“So this email was pretty upsetting,” said Davis. “And so I decided after not really getting a great email response I would put up a petition and see how many other people felt the same way I did.”

The petition, which has been posted for five days, has received over 550 signatures and it calls on the city to extend the free parking spots for frontline health workers while the state of emergency is still in place.

Because of the parking fees, she feels as though the appreciation of the frontline workers has diminished despite the pandemic continuing.

“There was a big sign in the park made by the hospital thanking the frontline workers,” said Davis. “Then that quickly disappeared and the parking was back in full force.”

Davis says that the morale was already down due to the pandemic and all of the stress that is involved, but the parking fees being reinstated has made it so much worse.

“It’s a stressful place,” she said. “I absolutely love my job and I love the people I work with. I am proud to be a KGH employee, but I keep all of my parking receipts and I pay my parking online and it’s shocking when I add up the costs.

“That’s definitely money that I needed.”

In the description under the petition, she said that she is disappointed by the City. “I am deeply disappointed that the free parking was not offered to us for the full duration of the state of emergency,” she wrote. “Surely we can do better and relieve some stress from the wonderful staff at the hospitals.”

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