Extending free parking at Palmerston North Hospital would mean sacrificing some health services, health board members have warned.
The hospital says it would cost $120,000 per year to extend free parking to an hour.
It has already extended the free time period from 30 minutes to 40 minutes last month.
However, some MidCentral District Health Board members feared extending it any further would force the hospital to cut back in other areas.
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The hospital made $1.4 million in income from parking last year.
After deducting expenses and depreciation, it made a surplus of $221,000.
The hospital says the “long-term economics” of parking are break-even and extending the parking time to an hour would put them into deficit.
Ever since fees were introduced in 2011 it has riled both patients and residents, with streets clogged and complaints about being charged at a time of emergency.
A proposal was put to the board to extend free parking to an hour but did not get enough support.
Board member Anne Chapman was concerned that $120,000 was too much to lose.
“If it is costing us that much money, what health services are we going to have to forgo to pay for that extra?”
Fellow board member Adrian Broad said he heard concerns from the public about parking when it had only been at 30 minutes’ free.
However, he worried that extending to an hour would cost too much.
Broad said it was a vexed issue and the hospital had to be careful.
Barbara Robson said she supported the 40-minute period but was aware of “continuing ongoing hardship” for some visitors to the hospital.
Oriana Paewai said there was not enough awareness about concessions available to certain patients and family members.
“People don’t ask; they don’t know to ask.”
Something needed to be done to make sure people were more aware.
Karen Naylor has led the fight in recent times against paid parking. She has argued that people do not choose to be in hospital.
MidCentral DHB chief executive Kathryn Cook acknowledged there were families who struggled.
The hospital provided $106,000 of concessions in 2016.
Cook said they would try to make more people aware of the availability of parking concessions.
“It is trying to target those most in need for whom parking is truly a hardship.”
Palmerston North MP Iain Lees-Galloway said the threat of losing health services showed how dire the situation was.
“One-hundred-and-twenty-thousand dollars, while it sounds like a lot of money – it could be someone’s salary – it is a tiny amount of money in MidCentral’s budget.
“It demonstrates how tight things are for MidCentral that $120,000 on parking could well mean services being cut.”
Meanwhile, the hospital’s surrounding streets have been clogged.
Stanley Ave resident Ian Bailey said it was a problem when visitors came to see them, some of whom were elderly.
He said the problem was mostly staff who did not want to pay for parking.
“Ninety per cent of people who park here are staff, because it fills up by 8am and is gone by 5pm.”
He said time limits on the nearby streets would simply move the problem out further.
“It will push the problem out another block.”
MidCentral will review the impact of the 10-minute free-parking extension in a year.