City Council to look at parking access for health care attendants

By Beth Treffeisen

Special to the Gazette

Mission Hill City Councilor Josh Zakim along with Councilor Michael Flaherty asked for a hearing to discuss the City’s current process for granting parking permits to in-home health care attendants serving residents, at the City Council hearing on June 21.

Constituents living in the downtown neighborhoods have brought this issue to Zakim’s attention.

“I have heard from many Bostonians, often our elderly neighbors or people coming home from stays in the hospital, whose health care aides accrue hundreds of dollars in parking fines while providing care,” said Zakim in a statement.

He continued, “Parking spaces are a limited resource, but there are ways to ensure that those who choose to live in Boston are able to receive the care that they need while maintaining adequate parking for all.”

While the City of Boston currently has two parking programs for home health attendants – one sanctioned by the Boston Transportation Department and administered through the Home Care Alliance of Massachusetts, and the other a pilot program through the Boston Disabilities Commission – there are many restrictions and limitations.

Many of the city’s residential streets are now “Resident Parking Only,” but home health care workers need to park on these streets to provide health care services to residents.

This lack of availability, Zakim believes, presents a concerning social and economic justice issue, as Boston’s home care workforce is primarily comprised of women and people of color, with an average salary of $14.22 per hour.

The fine for parking in resident-only spaces without a permit is $40, and parking garage rates can reach up to $35 per hour.

“It is mostly when hospice is in when someone is on their last days,” said Flaherty. “Often times families would call in and ask if they could get a placard, some mechanism where the healthcare worker won’t be punished. More often then not it is the families who are paying the tickets for the hospice providers.”

He continued, “There has got to be a more compassionate way as we as a City enforce the rules of the road but have some flexibility built in for people who have healthcare needs as well as hospice needs.”

The City of Boston is already working towards adapting the City’s structures and services to become accessible and inclusive to residents of all ages and abilities as outline in the Age-Friendly Boston Action Plan that was released this past May.

The 2014 Aging in Boston report indicates an approximate 52 percent increase in the older population in Boston by 2030. As more residents choose to age in place in the neighborhoods and communities that they have called home for years, a greater demand is expected on receiving in-home health care.

Other cities across the country, including Washington, D.C., Chicago, San Francisco, and Austin, administer various parking permit programs for health care providers that allow them to serve residents of each city’s neighborhoods without the worry of amassing exorbitant parking fines.

Councilor Annissa Essaibi-George asked that members from the Boston Public Schools, who have a lot of staff that visit a number of schools a day providing various services such as, speech pathology and occupational and physical therapy, also be a part of the conversation.

A lot of the nurses share schools as well and have to travel between them daily, said Essabi-George, who added that they too are very crushed because of parking restrictions.

“Also, on the other side of life, early intervention services have practitioners who are visiting homes for children that have special needs,” said Essaibi-George. “They could be born premature and have special needs or have some significant mental delays that need home services.”

Zakim said that this issue is something he wants to make sure is not abused. He hopes to work with the Boston Transportation Department and accreditation agencies and other in the home health care space to craft a solution that will help these health care providers.

“I don’t have the solution right now, just a hearing order to bring these folks together to talk about this,” said Zakim. “As we see more and more different uses on our curbsides, not just resident parking, not just meters and loading zones but, over and over we need to be thoughtful as the city matures and grows.”

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