The Health Services Union has called on Lismore City Council to reconsider a decision to cancel free all-day street parking at Lismore Base Hospital.
The free parking scheme for staff and visitors is set to end this Monday 18 January, with the re-introduction of paid parking along Hunter and Dalziel streets and time-limited parking along Weaver and McKenzie streets and Laurel Avenue.
The HSU called the decision a ‘big ugly road-block’ to providing a speedy COVID testing service. ‘I am flabbergasted that Lismore City Council would crab-walk away from its clever decision to offer free street parking during the COVID-19 pandemic,’ said HSU Secretary Gerard Hayes. ‘This decision just punishes local residents who do the right thing and visit the hospital for vital COVID tests – and who are already struggling with hours long delays, wearing masks during high temperatures and social distancing pressures.’
Free on-street parking has been in place since April. The HSU wants a further extension of the free parking scheme until Australia is declared COVID-free.
Council had discussions with health union
In response, Acting Mayor Neil Marks said in a statement: ‘Councillors have had numerous discussions with the health union regarding equitable parking around the base hospital. Council has held a workshop to discuss this issue and decided to re-introduce parking controls around the hospital after they were waived for nine months due to COVID-19. Council is able to review and extend the current situation at its Ordinary February meeting if councillors see fit to do so.’
Councillor Darlene Cook, whose motion in October extended free parking for another three months, supports the HSU’s request. ‘I have given staff notice that I will be moving a motion at the February meeting to reintroduce free parking,’ Cr Cook said. ‘I’ve asked if possible if they do proceed with reintroducing [paid parking] on Monday that they give a bit of leeway – perhaps a bit of a grace period.’
Lismore MP Janelle Saffin said re-introducing paid parking for residents and health workers was ‘bloody-minded’. She expressed concern that parking costs would put residents off going to get a COVID test: ‘We don’t need anything to deter them, in the interests of public health.’
Cr Cook said Council staff were working with the hospital to find a solution to that issue: ‘We’ve offered alternate locations in Lismore to the Health District if they want to do a pop up drive through facility, to get some of those people in the queues away from the front of the hospital. The hospital are thinking about that.’
The HSU is also concerned that staff are being treated like ‘cash-cows’ by the council. The union estimates staff will pay an average of $480 a year extra for parking.
Ms Saffin said that even if paid parking was reintroduced there should be exemptions for hospital staff. ‘I don’t want us to penalise nurses, midwives, health workers.’
However, Cr Cook said responsibility for free staff parking should be on NSW Health and the transfer of parking expenditure from state to local government was ‘grossly unfair’
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