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Being in the hospital is hard enough without worrying about finances

December, 2010

Sadly, because of a loved one’s illness and subsequent death, I spent much of my time in a hospital during the past few months.

Wanting to be supportive and at the hospital as much as possible is costly. As a near-daily visitor, I found myself feeling close to bankrupt after parking charges of $15 a day in the hospital lot, or taking my chances at the meters and watching the clock to avoid parking tickets (I wasn’t always successful). I am not sure who is charged less than $15, because by the time you park your car and walk to the hospital, pick up the mandatory coffee (another few dollars) and manoeuvre through the hospital, you have just about surpassed the minimum time before reaching the maximum payment. Hospital parking should be affordable and accessible.

For the patient, there is the cost of a private room, about $80 a day. I can get a decent hotel room for this price. Think about the patients who believe they will be hospitalized for a few days and decide to stretch their budget and go for the private room only to be hospitalized for much longer. Moving into a shared room with up to three other people isn’t easy. Neither is going into debt.

Hospital stays, aside from being stressful, are boring. Many patients are confined to their rooms or bedridden. There is not much to do other than read or watch TV. Reading is free, TV is not: It will cost about $66 a week, more if it’s ordered by the day. It’s cheaper to go to Cuba for an all-inclusive week-long vacation.

And what do you get for all this money? There is a button to push should you need assistance. Like a passenger in a plane, when you press the call button, a steward will quickly appear. At the hospital, you will get a voice on the intercom. I am not sure how many patients ring the bell because they don’t need medical assistance – they are not ordering a latte! Why not just send in the nurse?

After explaining that the IV machine was beeping, I was told that someone would come. Five minutes went by, 10. After about 15 minutes I went to the nursing station and was assured that someone would come. I waited another 10 minutes and then stood at the door near the nursing station as a not-so-friendly reminder. More than once I was reminded that a beeping IV is not life-threatening. What about the patient who is too ill to press the button or not strong enough to explain the problem? If there are no visitors to advocate on behalf of the patient, then what?

Eventually someone will pass by with fresh water or other service and hopefully notice that the patient needs assistance. The solution involves fat wallets paying for private attendants when there are no visitors. The last thing any of us want is to be sick. Hospital stays are not something we choose, but can the majority of us afford the related costs? Perhaps we could afford it if we chose a semi-private room, with no TV, and no visitors once they find out what the parking costs. With this knowledge, we have even more reason to try to stay healthy.

If only this were within our control.

Questions and comments can be sent to b.sandler@sympatico.ca and may be used in future articles.

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