Health minister and opposition critic spar over decision to charge cancer patients for parking at Victoria Hospital

Prince Albert's Victoria Hospital. (Herald file photo)

Parking payments at Victoria Hospital were the topic in a brief exchange between NDP Opposition Critic for Rural and Remote Health Jared Clarke and Health Minister Everett Hindley on Wednesday.

The two parties have sparred over the issue this week following complaints that cancer patients are being charged to park at the hospital while attending to receive treatment.

Clarke said charging cancer patients for parking punishes a group that is already suffering.

“These are folks who are going through a lot of terrible stuff right now, going through treatment, working through cancer, this just seems really cruel,” Clarke said during a phone interview on Wednesday. “(It) just speaks to the, I think, misplaced priorities of this government.

“For cancer patients who are going to the Victoria Hospital to have this service there and then be revoked is cruel, and, I think, mean-spirited,” he added.

Clarke said the province is “nickel and diming” cancer patients, while wasting millions with its healthcare budget.

During his response in the legislature, Hindley said the SHA is working to align their policies across the province, and would speak to why they are doing it.

Cancer patients did not pay for parking under the old Prince Albert Parkland Regional Health Authority, according to an email from the SHA, but that changed in 2023 when Parking Services implemented a new provincial policy. That involved installing new parking equipment at Victoria Hospital.

“There is now a consistent approach to parking services in Prince Albert, Saskatoon, Regina, Moose Jaw and Yorkton, where cancer patients are no longer provided with free parking,” reads the SHA email.

“When the new parking equipment was installed in Prince Albert last fall, current patients continued to received free parking. New patients had to pay for parking. This was accommodated by use of a code that was provided to the existing patients. Unfortunately, an internal audit uncovered misuse of this privilege.

“Parking Services is working towards alternative options to provide some support for patients who had been receiving these benefits previously; however, there will need to measures taken to avoid the same problem with non-eligible people using this privilege. The goal is to have a fair and consistent provincial policy at all locations throughout the province.”

The SHA did not respond to an email with a list of follow-up questions asking how the passes were misused, what the alternative options would be, or if cancer patients in other cities were filing complaints.

Clarke said the SHA should reverse course immediately and provide cancer patients with free parking.

“They’re going through a terrible time, and if this is something that can help ease the burden (and) make life just a little bit easier for them,” he said. “I think that’s something that should be common sense.”

The Daily Herald requested interviews on Wednesday with Prince Albert MLAs Joe Hargrave and Alana Ross. A government spokesperson said both MLAs were busy with meetings and would not be free.

Debates over the Victoria Hospital parking policy started on April 18 when Prince Albert City Councillor Dennis Ogrodnick posted a message about it on social media platform X, formerly known as Twitter. Orgrodnick wrote that the policy added “another financial burden for some, adding stress to an already stressful situation.”

He also wrote that the decision to charge parking fees was “cruel and mean spirited.”