New nurses face up to nine-year wait to get parking spots at Interior hospitals | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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New nurses face up to nine-year wait to get parking spots at Interior hospitals

Staff parkades and other parking spots are perpetually full during weekdays at Kelowna General Hospital.
January 28, 2021 - 9:00 AM

One Kelowna nurse regularly arrives an hour early for her 12-hour shift to begin her search for a parking spot while Kamloops nurses have approached that city trying to get access to city parking lots to make their commute to work shorter and safer.

Another nurse told her union rep about having “scary people” yelling at her or following her as she walked city streets late at night to get to her car.

“I was walking to my car after 11 p.m. and I had a guy come up to me and put his arms around me and ask me where I was going,” another Kelowna nurse wrote to B.C. Nurses Union President Christine Sorensen. “I had to elbow him and tell him to get away from me.”

The Union got these responses when it canvassed members about parking issues at Interior hospitals. She said she was surprised at how big the issue is for local nurses.

Sorensen wouldn’t give that nurse’s name to, nor the names of numerous others who responded to her request for information about parking conditions.

“The reason nurses don’t speak to you (media) is because the health authorities do not want a speak-out culture,” she said. “They continue to avoid whistleblower protection for people raising issues, whether it be parking or patient safety. Nurses are intimidated to bring forward issues for  themselves or for the public because they fear repercussions and they can be reprimanded.”

And it’s not an unfounded fear of reprimand. Some have actually been disciplined, Sorensen said.

Sorensen also learned the waiting list to get a daytime staff parking spot is from six to nine years in Kelowna.

One nurse said she talked to parking officials and was told they were working on applications from January 2015, six years ago. Another said a co-worker just applied for a spot and was told it would take nine years.

Interior Health has not answered repeated requests over the past few weeks about how many people work at Kelowna General Hospital or how long they have to wait to get a staff parking spot.

“Interior Health now has more than 700 dedicated parking stalls for KGH staff, and passes are available to all staff without a wait for onsite parking during evenings, weekends and stat holidays,” Interior Health did say in an email. "The number of people coming and going varies greatly and doesn't reflect the total staff at KGH, but we’re told an estimated 800 people are on the wait list, so we think that's about how many would use daytime parking passes if they could."

In 2019, reported there were more than 4,000 people working at the hospital.

READ MORE:  Interior’s biggest hospital also one of the best in Canada

Interior Health said it opened a 63-spot parkade on Speer Street earlier this month but, in a 2018 story, Interior Health’s real estate services manager Doug Levell said the new parkade would only have a net gain of 28 spots because of those lost to JoeAnna’s House, which provides accommodation for out-of-town visitors.

READ MORE: Perpetual parking pinch part of Kelowna General Hospital land deal

It’s a situation that’s quite distressing for many nurses who work long hours and can’t always team up with co-workers to walk long distances to their vehicles late at night or have an extra hour to spend trying to find a parking spot closer to the hospital at the start of their shifts.

“When they have these types of irritants, it takes away from their focus, which is providing patient care,” Sorensen said. “Nurses can’t suddenly leave the bedside, doff all their PPE so they can run out and address parking issues.”

During the COVID-19 pandemic, staff as well as public parking has been free but workers still need parking passes in order to occupy staff parking spots, when they can find them. It’s not that the union hasn’t tried to reason with Interior Health.

In Kamloops, nurses raised the issue with Interior Health, suggesting things like leasing spaces in city parking facilities or setting up shuttle services to more distant parking lots.

“We’re really getting no support from the health authority on this issue," Sorensen said. “It comes down to valuing nurses. Nurses don’t feel valued by their employer on this issue. They don’t think their health and safety is of concern.”

While it’s a hot button issue in larger Interior cities like Kamloops and Kelowna, it’s not something that’s big enough to make it to the province-wide bargaining table so has to be fought on a local level,” Sorensen said.

But, of course, individual nurses can’t go public with their concerns because of fears over reprisals, either formal discipline or subtle changes to schedules or what patients they are assigned, she said.

READ MORE: Interior Health nurses are being buried in parking tickets during the pandemic

— This story was originally published Jan. 19, 2021.

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