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Solving the Healthcare Parking Puzzle

Parking is often a significant pain point on a hospital campus. Lack of space, confusing wayfinding and the need to cater to patients who are often dealing with mobility issues on top of other stress makes it difficult to provide parking that meets the needs of patients and staff. Adjacencies, connectivity, technology and space constraints all create potential roadblocks that hospitals are forced to navigate.

One of the primary challenges parking poses is where to locate it. While hospitals need parking, space comes at a premium, and parking spots often have to compete with things like additional bed space or other patient-facing functions. Hospitals can also be extremely complex in terms of programming and needs. One parking structure may serve patients, staff and visitors of multiple buildings, which can make it challenging to ensure users can easily find and have easy access to their destinations.

Image of Solving the Healthcare Parking Puzzle A new parking structure serving an adjacent outpatient pavilion at UC San Diego Health's Hillcrest campus will feature an underground "spine" to escort patients safely to the hospital. Rendering by Arcadis.

Locating Parking Adjacent to a Hospital Facility

In a perfect world, the best place for parking is the shortest path of travel from parking spot to destination, creating ease of access for patients dealing with physical and mobility challenges that add even more stress to an already stressful experience. When developing a new campus, or even redeveloping an existing one, there is more opportunity to do just this, as parking can be integrated along with critical infrastructure like roadway networks, electrical lines and other utilities.

The Hillcrest campus of the UC San Diego Medical Center provided just such an opportunity: structured parking was designed across the street from a brand new outpatient pavilion as part of a massive redevelopment of the entire campus. However, even this option provided challenges: despite being adjacent to the new hospital, patients would still have to cross First Street to reach their destination. To create a safer experience, a subterranean connective “spine” was designed to protect patients traveling from the parking structure to their appointments.

Image of Solving the Healthcare Parking Puzzle A fully automated parking structure beneath the Fred Hutch Cancer Center outpatient facility at South Lake Union in Seattle solved space challenges while creating a safer, more user-friendly patient experience.

Locating Parking Below a Hospital Facility

But what if we don’t live in that ‘perfect world’ and parking cannot be located next to a hospital’s front door? Some hospitals elect to put parking underneath their buildings. In some locations, such as the Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula (CHOMP), topography plays a role in this decision. The hilly environment of the CHOMP campus made it possible to site underground parking below an entry plaza, which still offered patients convenient parking.

In other cases, such as the Fred Hutch Cancer Center in Seattle, site constraints may play a role. For a new outpatient center at the South Lake Union Clinic, the only available space to integrate parking was beneath the new building, but even that posed challenges. As the excavation costs to accommodate the necessary parking stalls was cost prohibitive, innovative thinking was needed to find a better solution. A fully automated parking system that utilized the available volume to park more cars in the same amount of space not only solved the space problem, but also created a safer, more user-friendly parking experience for the cancer patients navigating the new facility.

When Parking Can’t Be Close to Its Destination

When neither of these options are available, parking often gets pushed towards the edges of a campus, which creates inconvenience for staff and mobility challenges for patients. Additional operational services such as shuttles and valet parking can help mitigate wayfinding and mobility roadblocks that arise when parking can’t be close to the facility it supports.

Getting More Out of Your Parking Facility

Because location is key, some hospitals are looking for ways to bring other functions into a parking facility to get more value out of these premium locations. In the case of John Muir Medical Center, this even involved incorporating 45,000sf of space for medical use on the ground floor of the parking structure. However, doing so can trigger costly HCAI criteria that otherwise isn’t necessary for parking.

Salinas Valley Memorial Hospital was able to avoid this by moving administrative functions out of the hospital and into a new parking structure annex. This freed up valuable space within the hospital without necessitating HCAI criteria within the parking structure. Parking structures are also natural fits for helistops, like the one at Washington Hospital in Fremont, California.

Other non-patient facing infrastructure such central utility plants can also be coupled with parking facilities to keep them out of site while still capitalizing on prime locations.

Regardless of where parking is located, connectivity is key. Hospitals are much like airports in that they often function like small cities. Parking may serve one building or several, which can easily get confusing and disorienting. Creating direct connections, either via pedestrian paths or operations like valet, with clear wayfinding signage that makes finding your parking spot and then finding your destination as painless as possible not only helps patients but also serves as a means to retain staff in an environment where demand often outpaces supply when it comes to medical personnel.

Image of Solving the Healthcare Parking Puzzle Parking technology can help healthcare campuses increase utilization of their existing parking supply and provide valuable information about their parking is used.

Making the Most of What You Have

What happens when there isn’t room to add more parking at all? Space-constrained hospital campuses often face tough choices when it comes to accommodating growth, and parking is one of the things that frequently takes the hit when something needs to go. In those cases, the answers lie in getting the most out of what you already have. Parking technology such as access controls and guidance systems can help us do this. For instance, parking structures are considered “full” when they reach 90% capacity, as that is the point where users get frustrated and stop looking for an open space. Parking guidance systems that direct users to available stalls help push that utilization closer to 100%.

Access controls can also give hospitals a vital tool for making the most of their existing parking supply: data. Parking data can give hospitals valuable information on how both patients and staff use parking, which in turn helps define who needs parking when, where and for how long. With this information, hospitals can make better decisions about their parking supply and how it’s managed.

Every hospital campus is unique, with different needs and different constraints, meaning there is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to parking. However, we have more tools and methods than ever to take the pain out of parking and make it part of the solution rather than the source of the problem.

About the Author

Gordon has been practicing architecture for over 20 years and has a proven track record in successfully delivering complex projects from 3,000 to 1,000,000 square feet. His experience includes all phases of design, from Preliminary Design through Construction Documents for projects such as the VTA Milpitas and Berryessa parking structures. 

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