TORONTO — Ontario hospitals that charge more than $10 a day for parking were ordered Monday to immediately freeze rates, and to start offering multi-day discount passes by Oct. 1.
The hospitals will have to offer five-, 10- and 30-day passes that discount parking rates by 50 per cent to ease the financial burden on patients and their visitors, said Health Minister Eric Hoskins.
"This is important because we know that patients who are surrounded by loved ones get better faster, and we want to be sure their loved ones are there to help them through their health care challenges," Hoskins said at the new Women's College Hospital.
"When you have a loved one who has been sick and in hospital for a lengthy stay you have many things that you're already worried about. One of those things should not be how you're going to afford hospital parking."
Susan Kuczynski, a member of a group of parents of children with cancer, said the government's move would help provide relief from the high cost of parking at some hospitals for families that have to make many repeat visits.
"Parking has been amongst the most highly ranked issues that Ontario parents advocating for children with cancer face," said Kuczynski. "It's mind boggling."
The Ontario Hospital Association condemned Hoskins' announcement, and said the Liberal government not only froze hospital budgets for the past four years, it also encouraged them to find new sources of revenue.
"Revenue generated from parking fees is always used for patient care, towards the purchase of capital equipment and projects, infrastructure, clinical research, and day-to-day operations such as facility maintenance," OHA president Anthony Dale said in a statement. "The decision to cut revenues could not come at worse time."
Dale said Ontario hospitals need transitional funding to offset the expected decline in parking revenues.
Hoskins admitted parking generates $100 million a year in profit for Ontario hospitals, from about $172 million paid in fees, but he didn't offer additional funding.
"This will obviously reduce that net profit, but it varies pretty significantly from hospital to hospital, and at the end of the day it is a tiny, tiny portion of any individual hospital's budget," he said.
The New Democrats accused the Liberals of dragging their heels on a long-standing promise to deal with hospital parking fees.
"It's been over 600 days since (Premier) Kathleen Wynne promised to cut hospital parking fees, and now patients and their loved ones will wait another 256 days before they see relief from these high costs," said NDP health critic France Gelinas.
Smokey Thomas of the Ontario Public Services Employees Union said the Liberal government's "attack on our hospitals has go to stop, and it's got to stop now."
Hospitals that charge under $10 a day for parking will be "encouraged" to offer multi-day discount passes as well, said Hoskins.
The issue becomes "more complex" when the hospitals don't own their parking lots, which is the case at about 20 of the 147 hospital corporations in the province, including Kingston General, Sick Kids in Toronto and the Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario.
"We will be working with those hospitals to make best efforts, so that whether it's a municipal lot or a privately-run lot, that we try to accrue those same benefits to frequent users," said Hoskins.
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By Keith Leslie, The Canadian Press