CAMC moving in the right direction with decision to stop charging visitors for parking

October 10, 2023 5:57 am
An ambulance drives into the trauma center of CAMC General, while other cars drive past the building.

Charleston Area Medical Center General in Charleston, W.Va. (Lexi Browning | West Virginia Watch)

About this time last year, my boyfriend Dwight started feeling strange.

On a Wednesday, he said his feet were tingling a little bit. Later that day, he fell in the shower, and had to crawl to the bedroom. Out of nowhere, he was unable to use his legs. Because it was already late, he knew he would have a long wait at the emergency room, so he promised me he’d go in the morning.

Thursday morning, because he was still unable to use his legs, an ambulance had to transport him to the ER. After doing a blood test, the doctor said he didn’t see a problem, and sent him back home in an ambulance because he still was unable to use his legs. 

Friday evening, his fingers started to tingle and feel numb. He had trouble grabbing the remote and using his phone. By Sunday, he was having trouble breathing. This time he went by ambulance to a different hospital, Charleston Area Medical Center General.

He had to be intubated because he was struggling to breathe. By that point, he was unable to lift his arms or legs. They determined he had Guillain-Barré syndrome, a rare neurological disorder that occurs when the immune system starts to attack the nervous system.

He was unable to communicate for about a week. He couldn’t talk around the tube in his throat, he couldn’t write or type on his phone and he couldn’t point at the patient communication board. He would get so frustrated that no one could understand him, and I felt awful not being able to figure out what he was trying to tell me. 

The good news is that most people who have GBS make a full recovery, it just takes some time.

Dwight started out in the neurological ICU, received immunoglobulin therapy, and then had to wait for approval from his insurance to begin physical therapy. 

Once he finally was approved to start physical therapy, he did great. Each day he told me how many steps he took down the hall, showed me how he was able to bend his knees and sit up in bed. It had been almost a month, but it felt like he was close to being discharged.

Then his roommate got COVID-19, and so did Dwight. It erased all of his progress. He wasn’t able to bend his legs to sit up in bed, he had difficulty typing on his phone again. 

Again, he had to wait days for approval from his insurance to be placed back on the physical therapy floor.

By Dec. 1, he was finally discharged and able to walk with the assistance of a walker or a cane. A year later, and you would never know that Dwight had GBS. He’s walking fine, driving again and even able to open cans without the help of a fork or spoon.

He spent two months in CAMC. I visited almost every single day, except for when he was quarantined with COVID, and one day when I felt ill.

There was never any question about whether or not I was going to come during visiting hours, but I did worry about the cost of parking adding up — would I overdraw my bank account? Should I move $50 from my savings account over? Every visit cost me $4 to park in CAMC’s garage. If you park there every day for a month, that’s $120 — almost double what my monthly parking spot downtown costs.

The hospital did offer a parking coupon book that cut the cost of parking in half — if you were lucky enough to find out about it and you were able to get to the office before it closed at 4 p.m. Even if I had known about the coupons at the start of his stay, I still would have paid more than $100 in parking. 

And the thing with the coupon book is you paid $20 for 10 parking passes  — would he be in the hospital for 10 more days? What happens if he’s out and I have unused tickets? It’s a gamble.

I ended up spending around $160 for parking between paying full price, using a couple coupon books and a few days when the ticket machine wasn’t working and an angel from the security office just lifted the arm to let me out. 

West Virginia is the least healthy state with high rates of cancer, diabetes, heart disease, kidney disease and chronic lower respiratory disease. West Virginia also has high rates of poverty. To charge a person to park to visit a loved one who is sick, injured or just gave birth is predatory.

CAMC finally came to a similar realization too. 

Free parking began on Oct. 1 for CAMC Women and Children’s Hospital and CAMC Outpatient Surgery Center, and is scheduled to begin on Nov. 1 for CAMC General and CAMC Memorial.

CAMC Spokesman Dale Witte told MetroNews it’s a “revenue hit for patients and visitors to come visit us.”

It’s great that CAMC is making visiting its hospitals more accessible for people. 

When Dwight was in the hospital, I was already so worried about him — would he be able to walk again, would he get feeling back in his hands, would he bounce back from COVID? — that I didn’t need more worries, like parking costs, on top of it.

Now others in a similar position who have loved ones admitted to CAMC will have one less financial burden to worry about.


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Leann Ray
Leann Ray

Leann Ray is a lifelong West Virginian. Her work at the Daily Athenaeum and Charleston Gazette-Mail has won numerous awards. She is a graduate of West Virginia University.