Jewish World Review Jan. 16, 2003 / 22 Teves, 5764

Greg Crosby

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Consumer Reports

Assorted Gripes | I'm taking a break this week from my road trip adventures so that I can share some other aggravations with you. The first one has been bothering me for some time now and concerns hospitals, or more specifically, hospital parking.

I don't want to sound like I'm complaining or anything, but I am. Can someone give me a reason, short of pure greed, why a big rich hospital like Providence Saint Joseph in Burbank charges for parking in their own lot? No one goes to the hospital unless they really have to be there. Either you are going to visit a sick friend or family member, or you are going for testing or to receive medical treatment, or you work there, right? There is no other purpose to go to a hospital - you don't go to O.R. to "hang" with your friends, you don't go for the terrific latte in the cafeteria, or the great discounts in the gift shop. You don't go there to check out the babes. No, you are there because (a) you're sick or (b) trying not to get sick or (c) trying not to get sicker, or (d) visiting a person who is sick.

Isn't it bad enough that you have to be at a hospital at all without having to pay to park your car in the hospital-owned parking lot? Remember charity and mercy? What kind of charity and mercy do you call making a hospital parking lot "a profit center?" Don't they make enough profit on those $12 boxes of tissues and the $17 plastic water pitchers that they force all patients to buy? That's really called "soaking the sick." For any medical center to charge for parking is wrong, but there's something especially not very nice about a Catholic hospital, or any hospital owned and operated by a religious order, charging their patients to park on their property. Shame on them.

Not only that, but the doctor's medical buildings all around the hospital charge for parking too, and the doctors never, ever, validate, of course. The building parking structures and underground parking charge by the hour, or rather by the twenty minutes, so a trip to your doctor can cost you several bucks in parking fees easily. So what are a few bucks, right? Not much if you happen to be a young, healthy, twenty-or thirtysomething adult with a good steady job. The trouble is, most folks who spend a lot of time at hospitals and doctors' offices are older, sick people on fixed incomes. The ones who can least afford it.

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Getting old and sick is expensive enough without having the added humiliation of paying to park your vehicle while you're getting a colonoscopy. Talk about double jeopardy. Maybe if the doctors had to pay an hourly rate for parking like the rest of us they'd get us in and out of their office in a timely matter. Now that's an idea!

Speaking of parking, (which I was if you were paying attention) maybe it's just where I happen to live, but I've noticed that lately there seem to be more handicap spaces in parking lots than there are regular spots. Now what does that tell us? Are there much more handicapped people driving cars today than there used to be? Could be. There must be some official regulatory number of handicapped spots that a store must supply, I would imagine. In my recent experience I'd say that the number must be somewhere between ten to fifteen per store or no more than fifty to seventy-five for each mini-mall.

And did you know that a person parking with a handicapped sign does not have to put coins in the parking meters? Why not? Is it some kind of "handicap-racism" to require a person with a disability to pay into parking meters like all the rest of us? Since when did a disability plaque become a "get out of jail free card?" But wait - it doesn't work everywhere. For some reason the handicap plaque does not allow for free parking at the hospital parking lot or the medical building parking garages. I wonder why that is.

Paying for parking is everywhere today. If it isn't parking meters on public streets, then it's parking lots and garages. Everywhere you go you pay to park. Almost everywhere. There is still one place of business that doesn't charge patrons to park their cars. I almost hesitate to say it out loud for fear of giving some bright accountant somewhere a great idea. But I must say it, otherwise readers of this column will have me tarred and feathered.

The one place that still lets you park for free is …. the supermarket. I wonder how that one got by the cost accounting department? I hope I haven't opened a can of worms here. No, they wouldn't start charging for parking, would they? Not the grocery markets. My gosh, if they did, what in the world would be next….the hospitals?

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JWR contributor Greg Crosby, former creative head for Walt Disney publications, has written thousands of comics, hundreds of children's books, dozens of essays, and a letter to his congressman. A freelance writer in Southern California, you may contact him by clicking here.

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