Summa replaces hospital parking workers

Driven by cost savings and customer convenience, Summa Health System recently changed the parking system at its Akron hospitals.
But some visitors want Summa to reverse its decision to replace the staffed booths in its parking decks with automated pay stations.

Summa previously contracted with an outside company to provide attendants to collect parking fees from patrons at two decks on the Akron City Hospital campus and another at St. Thomas Hospital.

When the contract recently expired, the health system opted to install automated pay stations, Summa spokesman Mike Bernstein said.

Visitors take their tickets to pay stations inside the parking deck if they want to pay with cash, Bernstein said.

The parking system now is equipped to accept credit cards, which can be used at the pay stations or at the garage exits.

''In the past, they were only allowed to pay with cash,'' Bernstein said. ''This allows people to pay with credit cards at the gate or make their payment on their way back to the vehicle.''

The eight attendants who worked under contract in the decks at Akron City and St. Thomas hospitals have been reassigned to other jobs by their employer, Bernstein said.

Summa spent about $300,000 on the new system, Bernstein said. The move is expected to save the health system about $500,000 annually.

Mary F. Hazlett of Akron was surprised and annoyed when she recently took her 79-year-old disabled mother to a doctor's appointment on the City Hospital campus and discovered the parking attendants were gone.

Hazlett said it's difficult for visitors particularly those who are elderly, handicapped or with children to make a trip to a pay station before leaving the deck.

''I would like to see them go back to the way it used to be,'' she said.

Credit card convenience

Nationwide, more parking lot owners are switching to automated pay stations, said Shawn Conrad, executive director of the International Parking Institute, a trade association with about 3,000 members.

The automated stations can save money and give garage operators more control over collections, he said.

With many people using credit cards instead of cash, the pay stations also can be more convenient, he said.

''Many more parking facilities are going this route,'' he said. ''The primary reason is they see it as a customer-service approach. It makes it much more customer friendly. You don't have to carry the cash.''

Options elsewhere

For the past several years, the Cleveland Clinic has had automated pay stations inside its lobby for parking fees, spokeswoman Heather Phillips said.

The hospital also offers a credit card lane, as well as lanes that still are staffed by parking attendants, Phillips said.

''We wanted to provide a variety of options while utilizing technology where it's appropriate,'' she said.

Likewise, University Hospitals in Cleveland plans to offer a combination of staffed lanes and self-pay lanes in a new parking garage on the main campus ''to improve traffic flow and transaction time processing,'' spokesman George Stamatis said.

Akron General Medical Center last week opted to discontinue its contract with an outside company for parking services and instead employ its parking attendants, spokesman Jim Gosky said.

After reviewing its options, Gosky said, the hospital determined pay stations were ''inconvenient and cumbersome.''

''We wanted to keep it personal, whether at the bedside or at the ticket booth,'' he said.

Akron Children's Hospital also doesn't plan to switch to the so-called ''pay by foot'' stations, said Harry Ostapowicz, the hospital's manager of security, which includes parking operations.

Families enjoy the perk of getting free parking after the attendants leave at 9 each night, he said. With automated systems, visitors must pay to park around-the-clock.

Transition help

Summa's Bernstein acknowledged that the health system has received ''a few'' complaints since implementing the new system.

To help visitors during the transition, Summa is stationing employees by pay stations.

''We understand that there's been some confusion, and we apologize for any inconvenience that this has created,'' he said. ''Ultimately, we believe that the investment of half a million dollars back into the system outweighs what we believe will be temporary questions.''
Summa Health System
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