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Cancer patients still fighting for designated parking spaces at St. John’s facilities

Among the supporters at the protest were (from left) Mike James, Mercy Muyanga, Doodie James and Chloe French.
Among the supporters at the protest were (from left) Mike James, Mercy Muyanga, Doodie James and Chloe French. - Joe Gibbons

‘It’s brutal what we have to go through’

Susan Glynn will undergo her 20th chemotherapy treatment Thursday after being diagnosed with Stage 3 ovarian cancer in April 2015.

It’s a fight she’s facing with a lot of courage.

Another fight that she fronted on Wednesday, along with a number of supporters outside the Dr. H. Bliss Murphy Cancer Centre in St. John’s — part of the Health Sciences Centre complex — was an awareness protest to have Eastern Health designate 25 parking spots specifically for cancer patients.

That battle has been ongoing for 2 ½ years.

Following a protest in July and talks with Eastern Health, more blue zone disability spots were added, but none were designated specifically for cancer patients.

“This is the spot where we want the 25 places because accessibility matters,” Glynn said Thursday on the parking lot outside the cancer centre. “As you can see, it’s close to the entrance to the Dr. H. Bliss Murphy Cancer Centre. Cancer patients are very sick, very fatigued, and distance matters.

“The 25 spots we are looking for will make the journey a lot more easier for us. And in saying that, it’s not just for the people facing cancer now. There’s going to be more people in the future going down the cancer journey. So, even for them to be able to have those 25 spots, it will make their journey a little easier.

“There are times I have come here that I’ve had to park all the way down to the Ronald McDonald House and trudge on through and then go in there for anywhere from four to eight hours of chemotherapy and then trudge on back. You are fatigued. You can’t look at the Health Sciences Centre and put us all under the one umbrella. Dr. H. Bliss Murphy Cancer Centre is a different building.”

A statement from Eastern Health Wednesday said it understands that parking at the Health Sciences Centre may pose a burden on those who are required to spend long and frequent periods of time at the hospital.

In 2017, the statement noted, Eastern Health added an additional 30 blue zone parking spaces — 10 blue zone parking spaces were added to the main parking lot at the Health Sciences Centre and 20 blue zone parking spaces were added to the underground parking lot at the Janeway Health and Rehabilitation Centre.

“As a health authority that treats thousands of men, women and children with medical and/or mobility issues, we have an obligation to be fair to them all. Eastern Health provides as much access as possible to blue zone spaces,” the statement reads. “These spaces are available to cancer patients as well as other patients with mobility issues. While we recognize the specific challenges of patients in specific treatment programs, we cannot offer special parking consideration to one group of patients over patients from other treatment groups.

“Any patient requiring closer parking to the facility may apply for blue zone permits through the Motor Vehicle Registration Division of Service NL. In 2017, Eastern Health has also established a new process whereby clinicians at the cancer centre can provide blue zone authorization for patients who require it.”

The statement also noted, “Eastern Health has formally consulted with an ethicist about providing parking spaces specifically designated for cancer patients and has completed comparisons about parking throughout the country which are consistent with our approach. Eastern Health continuously explores options to improve parking for patients of the Health Sciences Centre and is always open to suggestions and feedback from those we serve.”

Jeff Blackwood says he has twice gone through the stress of the ongoing parking problems at the centre. He lost two wives to cancer.

While Blackwood noted there has been some improvement since Eastern Health got rid of the parking meters some years ago — as in a cancer patient no longer has to worry about getting a parking ticket for an expired meter — exhausted patients still have to sometimes walk from the back of the parking lot and sometimes can drive around looking for a parking spot for 30 to 45 minutes, then have to walk through often poor weather conditions.

Even for patients getting dropped off at the door by family members, Blackwood said, it still takes family members a long time to find a parking spot while the patient waits inside the door for them.

“One of the things I’ve done over the past number of weeks is to check to see what other hospitals are doing in the province,” he said. “Western Memorial Hospital in Corner Brook, there’s free parking. Cancer patients can park wherever they like, even in staff parking. The other hospitals — Grand Falls-Windsor, Gander, Clarenville, Burin — all have designated parking for chemo patients. All we are asking for is some allocation for those 25 spots. A little dashboard card that says you are a chemo patient and when you are finished, turn it back in so somebody else can use those spots.”

Glynn noted the group has a petition on Change.org that had 23,330 names as of Wednesday. In July, she presented a petition with 200 names on it to David Diamond, president and CEO of Eastern Health.

She said the frustration and stress of not finding a parking spot and of being late for an appointment is not good for a cancer patient.

“Anybody in this province knows somebody battling cancer. We are not asking for your pity. Compassion a big thing. But we are looking for your support, your kindness. We are looking for those 25 spots to make our journey a lot less hard on us,” Glynn said. “Cancer patients are sick, so I wasn’t expecting hundreds of cancer patients to be out here today, because I should probably not be out here myself. But the people here are supporting me as a cancer patient.

“It’s beyond hard what we have to go through. It’s brutal — the bone pain, the muscle pain, the fatigue, the illness. That’s what we are saying to David Diamond. That’s what we said to Minister (John) Haggie. And that’s what we are saying to Premier (Dwight) Ball. We need people to look at this, and it’s the premier right now because the minister and David Diamond have looked at it, and blue zones, blue zones that’s their solution. It’s not the solution. We need our own 25 spots to make our road a little bit less stressful.”

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