John Peter Smith Hospital will charge flat $4 fee for more than 30 minutes of parking

FORT WORTH -- John Peter Smith Hospital patients will no longer be able to get their parking garage tickets validated for free or $1 parking, and all visitors will pay a flat rate for more than 30 minutes.

The changes start Monday when the county hospital activates an automated parking system.

A hospital official said the new system will help JPS maintain effective operations, keep the garages in better shape and bring parking policies in line with those of other public hospitals in Texas.

But some patients say it will cause more financial hardship for low-income people who visit the hospital frequently.

"I live on a fixed income of $680 a month," said Marilyn Espinal, 67, of Fort Worth. "I know most people can probably dig up an extra $4, but if you don't have much money and go to the hospital a few times, it can add up."

Charles Williams, JPS vice president of operations, said that the changes won't strain patients' finances but that officials will evaluate the system after it is operational.

Right now, 12 minutes of parking are free, 12 to 30 minutes cost $1, 31 to 60 minutes cost $2, and so on up to $4.50. But many visitors have parking tickets validated at hospital doctors' offices, hospital care units or the information desk.

Under the new system, machines will replace parking attendants in booths. The first 30 minutes are free; parking for any length of time after that will cost $4.

With the current system, people with handicapped-parking placards can leave without paying.

Because the new system is automated, they will have to pay because there won't be an attendant to confirm that the patient has a placard, Williams said.

A one-month study of parking in the garages found that almost half of all visitors parked there long enough to pay $4.50, Williams said.

"If someone has a loved one in critical condition and they have to stay a full three days, they are only charged the flat rate," Williams said.

JPS officials studied parking policies at other public hospitals before switching, Williams said. Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas charges a flat rate of $5, and the Harris County Hospital District in Houston charges $10.

Visitors can pay for parking through the automated system with cash, coins, and debit and credit cards.

JPS has posted notice of the change at the hospital and notified patients in automated calls, Williams said.

Alex Branch, 817-390-7689