Parking shortage at VA hospital irritates businesses, visitors

A lack of parking spaces on the Veterans Affairs Medical Center’s property is causing employees and patients to park along 23rd Street and at neighboring businesses.

Rhonda Sievers often visits her uncle at the Grand Junction Veterans Affairs Medical Center, happy to fulfill his requests to bring a hamburger and a drink.

But parking is not always available in the front parking lot of the hospital, 2121 North Ave. There is more parking available at the rear of the hospital for visitors, but visitors rarely use it. However, if the main parking lot is full, the next most direct access to the hospital’s front entrance is directly east across 23rd Street where she’s parked for years. Earlier this week, Sievers was told by a business owner at Teller Arms that she needed to pay $1 to park for two hours and her vehicle would be towed after that.

“It’s irritating that I have to park across the street and then I get charged a dollar,” she said.

“I understand about the (nearby) businesses not having parking. I think the VA needs more parking.”

But overflow parking from the hospital’s patients and visitors in the Teller Arms parking spaces has long irked strip mall officials. Employees park at the rear of the hospital or along 23rd Street.

Signs placed at Teller Arms warn that the area is not for parking for hospital clients, and vehicles will be towed. However, spaces in front of businesses there invariably fill up with hospital patrons, scaring off potential customers, Teller Arms property manager Lorraine Erickson said.

More VA clients lately have been parking at Teller Arms while the hospital is under construction, but hospital clients have long parked in the strip mall’s spaces, Erickson said.

She is proposing to the Teller Arms owner to place a chain-link fence on the mall property to discourage hospital clients from parking and walking across 23rd Street. Other proposals to VA officials have included asking for money from hospital clients to park there, or have a Veterans Affairs employee redirect traffic elsewhere, but those suggestions were greeted with silence from VA officials in Denver, Erickson said.

“We have bent over backwards for the VA,” she said. “We’ve allowed them to park further away from the units on the other side. They say it’s because of construction, but they’ve had construction for God knows how long. It’s gotten to be quite a situation.”

Veterans Affairs spokesman Paul Sweeney said hospital officials are acutely aware there is not enough parking space. An empty lot owned by the city to the south of the hospital looks to be a perfect spot to carve out extra parking.

“Do you know how many people tell me that?” Sweeney said of the limited parking. “We’re taking steps to alleviate it, because we know it’s tight.”

To have an optimum amount of parking, the facility needs 100 more spaces, he said.

The federally owned hospital, like other federal and state-owned facilities, does not have to follow Grand Junction city codes for having adequate parking and other amenities, Grand Junction City Planner Tim Moore said.

Generally, hospitals in Grand Junction are required to have two parking spaces for each hospital bed and one space for each employee. The hospital also has about 225 volunteers with about 30 on site each day.

The VA hospital has 53 beds and about 500 full-time and part-time employees, so if it followed city codes, it should have 606 spaces.

It has 417 spaces, which includes 55 parking spots for people with disabilities.

The VA hospital is working to add 30 more parking spaces, and it is working to submit a plan in 2012 to add 250 spaces in a parking structure and a clinic combination, Sweeney said. To resolve some of the parking issues, the VA already placed an eye clinic off site, he said.

Sweeney said the hospital is working on an educational campaign to keep patients and visitors from parking at Teller Arms and letting people know the busiest times at the hospital are between 9 a.m. and 2 p.m.

A lack of parking may be hurting the veteran patients the most, if visitors decide not to stop in when the front parking lot is full, Sievers said. Older people especially don’t want to walk too far to get to the hospital’s entrance. And, bringing in food and clean laundry for her uncle becomes tedious if a hike is involved.

“It’s hard to get people to see you if you can’t find a parking spot,” she said.


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