Circling the Lot: Problems and Solutions With Parking at VA

Your appointment starts in a few minutes but you’re still racing toward the VA medical center. Even if you manage to hit every green light, you’ll barely make the scheduled time. Luckily, the building comes into view and you breathe a sigh of relief. That is, until you spend precious time circling the parking lot for an open space as the scheduled appointment comes close to being canceled.

Many Veterans can relate to that scenario. As we’ve seen on this blog, Veterans have a variety of opinions, but they typically agree on one thing: Parking is a serious issue at many hospitals, and it’s one that can negatively impact care. When we asked Veterans what they think of parking on our Facebook page, we received over 200 responses that shared a similar thread:

You have to get there at least an extra 45 minutes on top of the extra time you allotted yourself to get to your appointment just to find a place to park.

You have to get there an hour early or you will be late for your appointment. Even valet shuts down due to max capacity.

Getting tired of parking in the grass. I sometimes dread going to the VA because the parking is so bad.

It’s always hard to find a place. We have to drive around in the parking lot until someone leaves.

It takes me longer to find parking than to drive there from my home, 45 miles away. I now leave an hour and a half early and I’m still frequently late for my appointment.

PARKING—WHAT PARKING?

A few Vets had positive comments about their local facility’s parking situation, but most of the responses were negative. How have we gotten to this point? And can it be fixed?

Changes to city plans and modes of care

A major hurdle to parking expansion can be traced to urbanization over the last few decades. Hospitals built in the past tended to be away from other buildings and structures, but that empty space has since been filled, which limits construction opportunities. Put simply, growth in urban areas has landlocked hospitals to a point where expansion can not only be difficult, but in many cases, impossible. Parking lots and garages fill an incredible amount of acreage, and what exists today was an appropriate amount for the time the hospitals were built. Since then, wars and drafts have spurred the consequence of unexpected burden—one that is hard to solve now.

Another reason for the rise in parking demand comes from a transformation in medical care itself. Until the last few decades, the inpatient model of care was standard practice. Many people stayed in hospitals overnight even for common ailments, and often they were dropped off by a family member instead of parking for days or even weeks. With technological advancements in medicine, outpatient care has become a lot more common. There were 75 million outpatient visits to VA last year, with only 680,000 inpatient admissions. While it’s more efficient and costs less, it means people drive themselves to the hospital more frequently and stay for hours at a time. Traffic simply does not circulate the same way in an outpatient model of care, which puts more demand on a limited supply of parking.

Possible solutions to the parking dilemma

Depending on the medical center, parking can turn into a serious problem that prevents care and causes undue stress for Veterans. Some cannot wait years for new construction projects to begin, so there are a couple of solutions Veterans can try right now. Telehealth technology can help reduce on-site appointments by offering routine health screenings and doctor visits from the Veteran’s home using video conferencing and remote-based equipment. For example, if a patient has diabetes, he or she might not necessarily need to come in for every appointment or question. A simple video teleconference call can connect him or her to a doctor without a visit to the hospital. This model simply changes the location of where a Veteran can access care. The benefit of a hospital with one more on-site appointment means another parking spot remains open. Check out this video to learn more about telehealth, and if it’s something you’d be interested in, discuss it with your doctor.

Another solution comes by way of community based outpatient clinics. The original idea behind CBOCs was to boost access to care closer to where people lived, which may not be near a VA medical center. While there are 152 VA Medical Centers across the country, there are 800 CBOCs nationwide that offer primary and mental health care. These clinics are more common than medical centers and offer services relevant to most Veterans. The more Veterans who use these clinics, the more medical centers can free up over-burdened parking lots. If the parking at your local medical center is unacceptable, consider a nearby outpatient clinic.

Valet parking has been introduced at some facilities to help cut down on the wait for open spaces. The Atlanta VA Medical Center even incentivized employees to park away from the facility or use mass transportation. This is a solution that can be duplicated at any facility. Ask your patient advocate if a similar thing is done at the hospital you visit.

Moving forward

VA has taken the hard lessons from past construction planners. At new hospitals, construction requires significant parking facilities to meet current and projected demand. Retrofitted facilities have also taken the increased demand into account and ensure plans include ample parking space. Those planners could have hardly anticipated urban expansion or a new way to deliver medicine, but it’s now taken very seriously when new hospitals go up.

Even though decades-old city planning and changing concepts of care are nearly unalterable problems, that doesn’t mean Veterans circling the parking lot, missing appointments or walking a long distance are acceptable consequences. If there are chronic problems with parking at your local facility, let your hospital’s leadership know it’s an issue (and continue to let us know here and on Facebook).

Though it’s a complex problem, most folks in VA who deal with parking congestion understand it can be a potential barrier to care, and new construction on lots and structures are always in a development or planning stage. Still, those solutions may be years down the line. Use of telehealth technology and community based clinics can help create solutions now so you don’t have to wait, or miss your next appointment.

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22 Comments to “Circling the Lot: Problems and Solutions With Parking at VA”

  1. Patrick says:

    I have been extremely happy with the valet at East Orange, NJ VA. I had made a habit of making appointments at the earliest time available, even if it took an extra week or two to get, but this has allowed me to be much more flexible.

    • Antonino says:

      I agree that the valet parking at the East Orange VAMC has alleviated a good portion of the parking issue, but it STILL EXISTS. Valet parking gets backed up and there is frustration on all sides, .i.e., patients, visitors, administration and the valet parking employees themselves who work very hard and hustle to accommodate the vets, a special thanks to those men and women who work for the valet service.

  2. Jerry Bailey says:

    In 2008 the Federal transportation regulations were amended to include bicycles. Three years later the VA, and most federal agencies, have yet to update their policies to include the benefit.
    Another issue is the lack of adequate parking for bicycles. No, a tree is not sufficient. At my hospital a bicycle rack has set in a parking lot at the far edge of the property for more than two years. I suppose the VA plans to install the rack at some point in the distant future.

  3. Buck says:

    What I can’t understand is why there are so few handicap parking area’s at the VA Hospital. Everywhere I look I see Veterans who are wheelchair bound, on a cane or a walker so it is obvious there are more handicapped veterans than other hospitals who do not cater to the Veteran population. Is it that hard to understand???

  4. SCOTT JOHNSON says:

    Augusta, GA VA hospital parking is beyond horrible. Yet they just eliminated over 14 van accessible spaces to make room for valet parking. Great if valet works for you, but they can’t drive my joy stick equipped van.

  5. You should have an iPhone app for each facility which can tell a Veteran where parking is available as soon as a spot opens up. The city of San Francisco is trying an app that does just that.

  6. Joyce P says:

    My husband is a Blind Vet & we/he uses an outpatient clinic with very crowded lots. We are looking forward to the new outpatient clinic to be finished not far from the old one. the parking lot @ the Montopolis clinic has, at times been so bad that I tried to park in the employee’s parking but security guards made me move. We hope the new clinic on Metropolis will have better parking facilities.

  7. martin white says:

    The Va at La Jolla has fixed that problem. Follow there lead,and all will be good it’s that easy.

  8. Ed Clark says:

    Here in Houston I have been sometime confounded by the parking but most times I gave myself time to find parking before my appointment.

  9. Susan says:

    I have a horrid time with the parking only in Dallas….the new Ft. Worth complex is sooo much better…..the more specialist they could have come to Ft.Worth would go a long way in thinning the Dallas traffic and parking to a manageable problem.

    • Bob Dickey says:

      The Dallass VA has motorcycle parking for those of us who like 48mpg better than 18. The old Rosedale clinic had motorcycle parking. The new Fort Worth Outpatient clinic is outstanding, with plenty of parking but NO designated motorcycle parking. Shame on them.

  10. Alice says:

    We live 75 miles from the Memphis VA. In order to find a parking place, we leave the house at 0530, because all the spaces are filled before 7am. This means waiting around for a very long time if our appointments are not early morning. We’ve noticed some of the same vehicles parked in about the same spot on multiple occasions, suggesting that some of these may be night shift employees. When the proposed parking garage begins construction, this situation is going to become much worse.

  11. We don’t have a bit of trouble at the Harry S. Truman memorial VA Hospital in Columbia, Mo. they have valet parking during the day now..Pull up to front door under carport sign form for previous damages to vehicles and they park for you.. when returning give them ticket stub and they retrieve your vehicle for you…very handy for us that can’t walk far also.

  12. James Laubler says:

    Re: Fayetteville, Arkansas V.A. Medical Center

    We have a temporary shuttle working at our V.A. This is due to a massive expansion to the last bit of our property. We look like we are over the hump.

    When done, this will be a good thing for us Vets. Also, a Call Out to the staff of my V.A. Despite being grosley understaffed, you do a good job. I’ll be glad when you are funded so we can find out what the gulf war did to my neuropathy.

  13. Alphonso Manning says:

    Generally do not try to make appointment with the Main Complex here in Baltimore the lot is always full. You will have to park on the street an end up getting a parking ticket for expired meter or go to one of the parking lot that will cause you some money and a little walk to get back to the VAMC here in Baltimore.

  14. Kenneth Rice says:

    Saginaw VA has its parking problem, altho construction is going on. Parking quite a ways
    out will help, but when you can not walk or stand, that distance is to far. Saginaw now has
    a new building with plenty of space for parking. With the excellant medical, it is worth trying
    to park at main hospital bldg tho.

  15. Robert Black says:

    There is a parking problem at the Charles Georges VA Medical Center in Asheville, NC. The parking lot has expanded over the years but has not kept up with the additional outpatient increase. They added valet parking and the shuttle service will pick you up and take you back to your vehicle if you don’t use valet parking. But the patient care has not gotten worse, it’s gotten better. You can’t BUY better health care on the outside!!! I’d get up 24 hours early to get the kind of care I get from these folks. I’m a ‘regular’ outpatient there and have been an inpatient numerous times so I know what I’m taking about. I have an appointment there an average of once a month. I was a DAV driver and 9 out of 10 vets said they also received great care in Asheville. With this kind of service, parking is a minor inconvenience, a gnat on one’s ass……ociated body part. You people need to get a life!

    • Jeff says:

      The John Cochrane VAMC in St Louis should use parking lot shuttles instead of Valet! It would be much less headache, and probably cheaper to operate too!
      Their Valet is a failed experiment.

  16. Jeff says:

    Parking at the John Cochrane VAMC in St Louis it definitely bad. The parking lot is across a busy intersection, and the front lots have been closed for remodeling for the past year. Valet parking there is a joke! At 10:30 AM there is a 15-20 minute wait (blocking traffic) to get to the Valet area! In the afternoons (3-4 PM) they start moving cars out of the parking lot, into the valet dropoff/pickup area. When a veteran needs his car, they have to wrestle the care out of that line-up. I have watched the Valets “bump” cars (front and back) trying to get them out of the line-up in the afternoon! I will NOT use that Valet! I value my car and my property too much! Street parking in that high crime area is safer!

  17. Sandra Weidner says:

    I receive my care at the Bay Pines VA hospital, in Florida. I travel 150 miles 1 way to receive care. I know that is long way with facilities closer, but I have 2 Drs there that makes the drive worth it. There has been construction at the facility and a lot of it has consumed up a whole parking lot. They have shuttles running, but often times you can’t find one. I truely believe the solution there would be parking garages which could expand parking since there is so little green space left.

  18. Ann Lang says:

    If the staff would park in their assigned lots it wouldn’t be so bad. We get there at 7 for an 11 appt and the lot is almost full and there are few if any patients there. We go to both Mather and McCllen in Sacramento, CA. Also the hospital is WAY too small for the amount of patients the VA handles in this area.