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The Daily Tar Heel

Editorial: UNC is shaking down cancer patients


Scott Reece, 45, helps his wife, Nunny Reece, 41, who has stage 4 metastatic breast cancer, tie her shoes on Tuesday, Oct. 1, 2019. Nunny Reece and her husband frequent UNC Hospital often and face additional challenges due to parking costs, which typically are up to $10 a day. On this day, Reece had a parking permit due to her receiving radiation treatment all week.

As if nickel-and-diming students with fees wasn’t enough, the University is now shaking down hospital patients.

Last week, The Daily Tar Heel published a story about the undue financial burden that parking fees place on cancer patients at UNC Hospitals. 

As students, we know that parking on campus isn’t cheap, so most of us try to avoid it altogether by walking or taking a bus instead.

But patients at UNC Hospitals don’t have the same freedom — not driving to the hospital to receive treatment isn’t really an option. And for cancer patients, many of whom must park several times per week for treatments that last several hours, these expenses can really add up. 

Haven’t cancer patients and their families endured enough already? The toll that cancer takes on patients and their families is already huge — financially and emotionally. Adding yet another stressor to their lives is cruel and wholly unnecessary.

Parking fees have proven to be quite lucrative for UNC, though. The DTH reported that in the 2018-19 fiscal year, the Dogwood Parking Deck — one of two primary parking areas for hospital patients and visitors — alone generated $3.7 million in revenue. 

But this money doesn’t even go to UNC Hospitals. If it did, theoretically, this money could be put toward hospital equipment or financial assistance programs for low-income patients. However, UNC owns all parking lots and decks on campus. This means that the University, not UNC Hospitals, receives all revenue generated from parking fees. 

Despite the steady flow of cash already trickling into the University’s pocket, UNC never seems to be satisfied. Just this year, a new parking policy was implemented that put an end to free parking on weeknights. 

This is a whole new level of wrong. The University ought to stop treating cancer patients as a source of revenue. 

The only available alternatives to paying the parking fee include a week-long pass at a reduced rate and something called “indigent” parking, which covers the fee for patients who can’t pay. Both, however, have their flaws.

The week-long pass is only available to patients who stay overnight, meaning that even those who make 4 or 5 day trips per week don’t qualify.

The indigent option still burdens UNC Hospitals, and by extension their patients, as the unpaid parking fee is split between the University and UNC Hospitals. Can someone please explain to us how making the hospital — which receives no revenue from parking fees — cover half of this expense is even remotely equitable? 

Moreover, the indigent request form isn’t available online, and the program isn’t mentioned in the Patient Information Handbook. 

This issue hits especially close to home for us. Some of our editorial board members have family who drive from hours away to receive specialized care at UNC Hospitals, so we know personally how much of a burden $10 can be on top of travel expenses.

One positive takeaway from this problem coming to light, however, is that now the University has the opportunity to respond. We urge those with the power to remove this burden from the backs of families to act swiftly.

Our suggestions include increasing advertising of the indigent program, expanding access to the week-long rate and creating a new alternative like subsidizing patient parking with the revenue from other lots on campus. 

Regardless of the course of action, the University should have no hesitation in its efforts to stop squeezing money out of cancer patients.

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