Magazine

RX For Hospital Parking

Richard C. Rich, PE, and David Burr

Hospital administrators and planners face enough challenges today without having to add parking to the mix. Yet for many, parking is a constant source of headaches. It's easy to see why many hospital administrators view parking as nothing more than a necessary evil.
Instead, hospital planners should think of it as an untapped resource. The healthcare marketplace is extremely competitive, and a successful parking program can give an institution a leg up by making the hospital experience more convenient and pleasant for patients, visitors and staff.
Yet even hospital administrators and planners who recognize the importance of parking don't know where to begin. When it comes to parking, every hospital is unique, and there are no cookie-cutter solutions. However, a number of common parking challenges, which if addressed properly, can be overcome without too much difficulty.
Addressing Key Development Issues
The key issue to be addressed in the development of any new hospital parking facility is how it fits into the institution's plans for the future. For instance, it is essential not to provide more parking than the hospital will need in the foreseeable future, and it's equally important not to provide too little.
The disadvantages of providing inadequate parking are obvious: If there isn't enough parking, then patients, visitors and staff will be inconvenienced by having to search for parking or wait for spaces to open up. This can have a negative impact on the public's perception of the institution.
The negative repercussions of developing too much parking can be equally serious. Parking can be expensive to develop, and money spent unnecessarily is money that won't be available for other important functions.
Additionally, a parking facility can require a lot of land, and if it is too large, it needlessly occupies space that the hospital may need for other purposes, such as expanded inpatient services or medical office buildings. In these cases, hospitals often find themselves looking for new land to purchase to accommodate those services, and often in the face of community opposition.
Similarly, new parking should be located in such a way that it doesn't undermine an institution's plans for future development or expansion. For instance, if a hospital plans to expand inpatient services in the coming years, it is important not to locate new parking on land that could be better used for those or other patient-care functions. This often means leaving space that is adjacent to hospital buildings free for future development, and strategically placing parking to accommodate areas in which development is likely to occur.
Of course, the development of new parking doesn't only present challenges. There are also opportunities to enhance services. Creative parking design can make the entire hospital experience more convenient. For instance, many hospitals reserve parking spaces that are closest to care units for ambulatory surgery and dialysis patients, as well as others who may be too impaired to walk long distances from their vehicles to their caregivers.
Also, some hospitals are developing mixed-use structures combining parking with care functions, such as day surgery. Others are combining parking with medical office buildings or administrative space.
Finally, more hospitals are offering valet services to better accommodate impaired or elderly patients. For obvious reasons, these services are very popular, particularly for hospitals that treat significant numbers of elderly or infirm patients.
Managing Cost
Another problematic area for many hospitals is financing. Over the past decade, hospitals have had to tighten their financial belts as both the government and private insurers have reduced reimbursement levels. As a result, hospitals have had to cut back on services, and a number have closed altogether.
Needless to say, this trend has impacted all development, including parking. While parking is a necessity, it can be expensive to develop. Hospitals across the country are struggling to find creative new ways to pay for it.
One reason it is such a struggle is that many hospital administrators don't want to charge patients and visitors for parking. However, for many hospitals, particularly urban institutions where land is at a premium, it's not a matter of whether to charge, but rather how much. There simply isn't enough available land to provide free parking to all parking constituencies, which includes not just patients and their visitors, but staff as well.
The real decision revolves around how much to charge. In most cases, hospitals can't afford to charge enough to underwrite the entire cost of a campus parking program. This is particularly true in congested areas, where more affordable parking may be available close by. However, in light of the healthcare cutbacks mentioned earlier, it is imperative for hospitals to set a price that will be competitive while providing the greatest monetary return possible. Hospital planners need to walk a fine line between overcharging and undercharging.
The only way to determine where that line lies is with a comprehensive parking survey. Through such a study, consultants evaluate all the parking resources that are available in the area to determine what people will be willing to pay for hospital parking. A successful parking survey must be specifically developed to address the unique characteristics of the area in which the hospital is located. All too often, these efforts fail because planners apply standardized formulas, rather than addressing the unique challenges and opportunities facing their particular institutions. However, if properly conducted, a parking survey can be a powerful tool for ensuring the success of a hospital parking program.
Every hospital is different, as are the parking obstacles each faces. However, these common challenges can often be overcome through the simple solutions outlined here. For many hospitals, they can be the perfect remedy to their parking headaches.

Richard C. Rich, PE, is president of Rich and Associates. David Burr is senior parking planner at Rich and Associates and heads the firm's healthcare parking planning group. The firm can be found on the Internet at www.richassoc.com.

Article Abstract from October, 2003




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