When a doctor working in a local emergency room (ER) reports the thing they want most for Christmas is more nurses and personal support workers (PSWs), something has to be done — and if Kingston City Council can’t help with that, addressing another issue for local health-care workers Council can help with is the least the City can do.
Conny Glenn, Councillor for Sydenham District, shared these sentiments at the meeting of Kingston City Council onTuesday, Dec. 20, 2022. And she then continued with what she felt ‘has to be done.’
Councillor Glenn moved a new motion, seconded by Councillor Jeff McLaren, to “waive on-street parking permit fees for up to 300” of those “critical frontline health- care workers directly involved in patient care, [who] need parking passes the most [and who] cannot take a break from patient care to line up for a parking pass or renew a meter.”
The parking permit fees would be waived for those health-care workers holding 300 “temporary permits” for a period of two months “on neighbourhood streets in proximity to Kingston General Hospital and Hotel Dieu Hospital sites,” according to the motion — which, Glenn emphasized, includes a number of clauses aimed at ensuring those permits go to the frontline health-care workers who need them the most. This move would cost the city approximately $7,500 in budgeted parking revenue per month, the motion states – a total of $15,000 for the 300 temporary two-month permits.
In speaking to the motion, Glenn referenced hearing those Christmas wishes from a local ER doctor, noting that the nurses and PSWs already working at Kingston Health Sciences Centre hospitals are “stressed, reporting sick, and having to attend to children right now who are very, very ill.”
“We know that we are having children transported to our hospital. The last thing that we need our health-care workers worried about is where they’re going to park,” she said.
“I understand that this comes with a bit of a cost, but I think it’s a long-term problem, which is why [we’ve included] the final part of this motion.”
Indeed, the final part of the motion was the portion that many councillors, along with Mayor Bryan Paterson, pointed to as the “crux of the motion,” to quote Councillor Ryan Boehme. Both Boehme and Paterson mentioned that waiving parking fees around the hospitals is an item Kingston City Council has dealt with several times already.
To that end, Glenn and her seconder McLaren both explained, the motion includes the following:
“That Staff consider longer term options to ease the plight of overworked hospital employees in relation to parking, such as but not limited to more park-and-rides and more long-term parking.” City of Kingston staff would then report back to Council by the third quarter of 2023 with options for longer-term solutions.
McLaren called attention to the wording regarding to whom the permits should be issued, and reiterated that the permits go to “critical frontline health-care workers, directly involved in patient care.” This wording, he said, was purposefully chosen in an attempt to avoid the problems that occurred in the past with such programs. Early in the COVID-19 pandemic, Council implemented a similar program, and then again in 2021. During the second round, some local frontline workers complained that the permits were given out on a first-come-first-served basis during a time when many of the health-care workers the permits were intended for were working, tending to the influx of patients due to the virus.
“I can’t stress this enough: this shouldn’t go to the same people that got it last time. This is for people who missed out on it last time because they were working,” McLaren said, requesting that City staff “make it as clear as possible to Kingston Health Sciences Centre” who is to receive the permits.
McLaren also asked City staff if reporting back to Council on longer-term solutions by the third quarter of 2023 was feasible; staff replied that it should be more than enough time for an initial report back.
Mayor Paterson stated that, while he would support the motion now, he would not be likely to do so if the waiving of parking fees for health-care workers were to come before Council again. He then voiced “a couple of concerns.”
“Number one, we’ve been very focused on hospital health-care employees, [but]… there are many health-care workers in our community who are not at the hospital, who are very much under similar stress, given the current state of our health-care system,” Paterson began.
“The second thing… given the current challenges that our health-care system is facing, I’m no longer convinced that parking is the number one concern… and there could be other strategic ways that we, as a City, [can provide support]… Not taking this away, but, to be honest, there are other bigger, larger, structural pieces that are ahead of us.”
The mayor then posed to Council, “Yes, it’s $7,500 a month, but think about what we could do with that money: for example, in doctor recruitment. Think about what we could do… in other strategic ways to assist on this file.”
With all of those who spoke to the motion having said they would vote in favour of it, including those with hesitations, it was not surprising that Council voted unanimously in favour of issuing up to 300 permits for two months to frontline health-care workers in order to waive their parking fees, as well as having City staff report back to Council on longer-term solutions in the third quarter of 2023.