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Wednesday, December 13 Local

Stamford Hospital parking fees a symptom of progress

STAMFORD — Heather Sabia was not thinking about parking when she drove to Stamford Hospital with abdominal pains early one Sunday in September.

But it ended up that she needed tests and had to remain at the hospital for nearly seven hours, which put her at what was then the maximum parking fee — $20.

“I thought that was outrageous,” the Stamford woman said.

Apparently other visitors thought so, too, and let the hospital know. Spokesman Craig Andrews said hospital officials late last month cut the maximum fee in half.

They did it “based on feedback from patients and the community,” Andrews said. “They reassessed the fee and dropped it down.”

Sabia said she provided some of that feedback in a survey the emergency department gave her to fill out after her visit.

“It didn’t include a question about parking, but I put in a comment about it anyway,” she said.

Andrews said people aren’t used to paying for parking at Stamford Hospital, which started charging after it reopened last fall. The hospital underwent a $450 million expansion and reconstruction that began in 2013.

“Generally, when you introduce a new pay-for-parking scenario, and you didn’t have one before, people are going to be unhappy,” Andrews said. “But I think most people are understanding.”

The hospital charges $2 for up to two hours; $4 for two to three hours; $6 for three to four hours; and $8 for four to six hours. The one-day maximum now is $10.

Those who choose valet parking pay a flat fee of $4 per day.

But the hospital still is tearing down old buildings on the 30-acre campus, constructing a loop road, creating a new main entrance facing Hubbard Avenue, and reconfiguring parking lots. Work should be complete by the end of the year, when there will be more parking on campus, Andrews said.

“Everything is in the middle of changing,” he said. “It will be a lot clearer when it’s done.”

So parking on campus has been understandably confusing as construction has continued. Now there are four parking lots, plus one for the Emergency Department and a garage under the new Medical Office Building that also charges.

“As you drive in, it says you have to pay to park, and it says there is valet parking but I didn’t see anything saying what that would cost,” Sabia said. “So the choices were park yourself and pay what it said, or get valet parking without knowing how much that would cost.

“I didn’t think I would be more than three or four hours,” she said, so she opted for self-parking.

The hospital “always recommends valet parking, because it’s the most convenient,” Andrews said.

But hours vary. At the hospital’s main entrance, for example, valet parking is offered on weekdays from 5:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. At the Emergency Department it’s available from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., and at the Bennett Cancer Center it’s 7 a.m. to 5 a.m.

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The original reconstruction plan included a parking garage on campus, but hospital officials decided to put it off until they knew what they wanted to do with the old buildings. The site and size of the garage are under discussion, Andrews said.

The campus now has roughly 1,000 parking spaces, which is about the same as the number of visitors who go there each weekday, he said.

It’s one reason why, three months ago, the hospital had a third of its 3,000 employees begin parking at the Stamford Town Center mall a mile away, running a shuttle to bring them back and forth.

“It’s not great for staff to be off-site, but it’s a reality in all real-estate-challenged industries like hospitals,” Andrews said.

So is charging for parking, he said.

Sabia said it’s not fair because the hospital has a monopoly.

“We had another hospital, St. Joseph’s, but now it’s all owned by Stamford Hospital,” she said. “We have no choice.”

But the city has a state-of-the-art facility, Andrews said, and parking fees are one price of progress.

“The community was ready for a new hospital,” he said. “Patient satisfaction scores went through the roof within a month or so of reopening.”

acarella@stamfordadvocate.com

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