The acting editor of the CMAJ has sparked a controversy weighing in to a debate about parking, suggesting that parking near health facilities should be subsidized. Assuming such a policy can be operationalized (how near? For whom?), the underlying issue is an interesting and global one. When I was first appointed as a Board chair in Australia the CEO wanted me to fix two issues: parking and the squeezing out of elective surgery by urgent cases.
In Alberta, there’s a provincial regulation which has been interpreted as precluding subsidy of ‘ancillary services’ such as parking. But should this be so? Is parking a health service? I’m not sure. Should we subsidize public transit fares for those that don’t drive to an appointment, to visit a relative or to work in the facility?
The issue is clearer in Alberta where we negotiated a five year funding deal with the provincial government. The budget is known for the next few years. If the government decides to change the regulation then it has two choices: either tell Alberta Health Services
to absorb the costs and cut other aspects of health provision to find the money, or the provincial government could allocate extra money to the health portfolio. Somehow I think the latter won’t happen.
So it all comes down to a priority choice: if parking is a health service, how many hip replacements (or other health services) is it worth?
A final note, is that part of the Alberta Health Services’ strategy on parking was to publish an annual statement
of how much we got in from parking revenue and how much we spent on parking. This was part of our commitment to transparency. We also found it easier if people could see that we didn’t make a profit on parking!