Some employees at Royal Inland Hospital are frustrated with a lack of parking spaces — a situation that has left staff feeling unfairly targeted amidst the COVID-19 pandemic and calling for a long-term solution to a situation deemed dangerous.
According to multiple nurses, who have asked to remain anonymous, staff are having difficulty finding onsite parking as lots reserved for them have waiting lists. Meanwhile, Interior Health has told them they cannot park in the Clinical Services Building parkade fronting Columbia Street as it is reserved for patients and visitors. Staff who do park there are being ticketed despite the lot being not at capacity and parking stalls being offered free of charge during the pandemic.
Offsite lot locations, such as in Peterson Creek, have left some employees feeling unsafe making the lengthy walk to and from the hospital in the dark and during inclement weather.
A nurse who sent KTW a letter said while parking is free, staff who don’t have passes have nowhere to park that is safely lit and less than a 20-minute walk away.
Another nurse told KTW she was ticketed three times in November for parking in the Clinical Services Building’s parkade.
She said many of her colleagues have also been ticketed, noting it seems as though enforcement has been ramped up in the past few months.
She said some staff inevitably have to park there due to a lack of staff passes in approved parking areas.
“I think it’s ridiculous. It’s COVID, we’re going into the trenches. Everyone else in the world is celebrating their health-care workers and these guys are charging us 30 bucks a pop,” the nurse said.
“The hospital’s so empty. I don’t know why now they’re choosing to come down on staff.”
The nurse said she has been on the waiting list for a parking pass for years and has recently borrowed a friend’s to avoid being towed.
She said advice from management via email has been to take the bus or carpool to the hospital.
“Really? You’re telling us to carpool in the middle of COVID?,” she said.
A second nurse told KTW she received a ticket last week for parking in a staff overflow lot — a decision made to avoid what she views as an intimidating walk between RIH and the Peterson Creek lot for which she does have a pass — and where she has observed people camping under the Highway 1 bridge.
She said she the overflow lot has decent lighting and a panic button, whereas the Peterson Creek lot is poorly lit with no such emergency button.
“I refuse to park there on my day[s] where I have to walk down there in the dark, dark, dark at 7:30 p.m. at night,” she said.
The nurse noted Interior Health had issued a warning that staff who park in prohibited areas will be ticketed. But, she explained, staff often find themselves with no other options.
The nurse claimed management informed staff that Impark — the company hired to manage the parkade — would be tracking staff vehicles and informing the health authority, leading to repercussions with human resources for staff with a history of unpaid parking tickets.
She said staff have also been advised to park in the 700-block of Columbia Street and beyond, where there is no time limit on parking, but contends that only takes parking away from others in the downtown area.
Parking has been an issue at RIH for years, she said, but free parking during the pandemic has made the situation worse because staff are being monitored.
“Before, when it was pay parking, staff didn’t mind paying. Most people would come in and they’d pay and they’d never get flagged,” she said.
In an email response to questions from KTW, Interior Heath said Impark monitors vehicles parking in the Clinical Services Building regularly, noting staff are being ticketed to ensure patients coming to RIH have access to stalls.
Nurses to whom KTW spoke said staff don’t want to take away from patient and visitor parking, nor do they want free parking.
Both nurses and others KTW spoke with have suggested Interior Health procure an offsite parking lot with a shuttle bus service to and from the hospital.
According to the health authority, there are three offsite staff parking areas, while the patient-care tower construction project will create about 100 net new stalls.
“We know there are parking challenges at RIH and Interior Health is exploring future options to increase the number of parking stalls,” Interior Health stated in its email.
The health authority also pointed out it has a safe walk program, with a security guard for those with passes to the Peterson Creek lot, and that all employees are eligible for after hours/weekend parking passes to onsite lots in dedicated areas.
The nurse who has a pass to the Peterson Creek parking lot said while it’s appreciated that everyone can get those passes, it doesn’t solve the daytime issue.
“When you work 7:30 to 7:30 in the daytime, it still doesn’t help you,” she said.
She also challenged the effectiveness of the safe walk program, noting security is already understaffed and busy with onsite issues.
“That’s not a solution,” she said.
While the patient-care tower will add parking spaces, the nurse doubts there will be enough for staff to solve the issue and it’s not an immediate solution as the tower is not expected to open until the summer of 2022.
She said she understands providing parking is not a requirement for Interior Health, but noted there are myriad employees working long hours in a stressful environment exacerbated by the parking issue.
“When you work a 12-hour shift already, potentially you’ve had two or three codes, people dying, serious stress with COVID, you often don’t have a break and then you’re walking this long distance, feeling unsafe — it’s really stressful for people and makes them not want to pick up shifts,” she said.