Free parking at Okanagan hospitals to help stop spread of coronavirus

British Columbia is making parking free at all B.C. hospitals and other public health-care facilities, including those in the Okanagan.

The move, which takes effect Apr. 1, was announced by Health Minister Adrian Dix Monday afternoon.

“To reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission, we are suspending paid parking for the patients, staff and visitors at all health authority-owned and operated sites,” Dix said. “This change makes it easier for individuals to avoid touching screens and buttons at payment kiosks that may have been touched by someone previously.”

The decision comes after a public outrage over making patients and health-care workers pay for parking during the pandemic.

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B.C. Nurses’ Union president Christine Sorensen had described the requirement for health-care workers to pay to park as “unacceptable.”

Sorensen told Global News nurses were being ticketed during their long shifts caring for COVID-19 patients.

“They can’t just easily leave their unit, take off all their personal protective equipment, go out and plug the meter,” Sorensen said. “That’s difficult for them. I’ve heard of cases where nurses are leaving COVID planning meetings to go out an plug the meter.”

In Kelowna, parking, including staff parking, is at a premium. That has meant that in some cases, health-care workers were walking several blocks to get to their shifts.

“They are worrying about childcare, they’re worrying about infecting the community, they are worried about taking this disease home to their family and parking is just one of those things we can fix for them,” Sorensen told Global News.

More than 10,000 people signed a petition calling on the government to implement free parking for health-care workers that was launched over the weekend.

Sorensen said she was very pleased to hear the government had made the decision to suspend parking fees.

“This is really helpful to nurses and other health-care workers at this time,” she said. “This is just something they did not need to worry about while they are trying to save lives.”

The City of Kelowna is also doing its part and has, for the time being, suspended pay parking on both the Rose Avenue and the Abbott Street hospital frontages.

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