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Council abandons hospital parking rule

(ran SS edition of METRO & STATE)

The issue before the City Council was about parking spaces. But that's not how Michael Aubin, administrator of Tampa Children's Hospital at St. Joseph's, put it.

If the city forced hospitals to provide more parking spaces, he said, critically ill children might die.

Tampa Children's Hospital, which posted a $3-million profit in 2001, could not afford to add parking spaces to satisfy the new parking code, which was designed to prevent patients from parking in the neighborhoods around St. Joseph's.

Adding more space would delay the opening of more operating rooms, Aubin said. And that would force sick kids to wait longer for surgery, which could cause complications or death.

"Remember that it is your job to protect the most vulnerable, not to impose rules that could jeopardize their lives," Aubin said.

With that hanging over them, council members changed course.

Two weeks after approving new parking rules for hospitals, the council stripped the parking requirements from a city code passed Thursday.

The rules would have required hospitals to provide 2.5 parking spaces for every hospital bed. That's an increase from the current requirements of 1.2 spaces per bed.

Council members told staff to work closer with hospital executives, who said they weren't consulted when the new rules were developed.

"We ought to talk to the people who know best," said City Council member Bob Buckhorn.

Council chairman Charlie Miranda, who wanted the tougher parking requirements, chastised the hospital executives.

"You are putting the burden on us like we are criminals, and we are not," Miranda said.

Hospital officials said no other city in Florida requires hospitals to provide as much parking as the new city code would have.

City officials disputed that claim, saying the parking requirements were in line with city codes across the United States.

"I don't believe the increase in financial burden is as great as has been represented," said Elton Smith, the city transportation chief.

Smith said a study conducted by St. Joseph's Women's Hospital showed that the hospital already had 2.45 parking spaces per hospital bed _ not far below the proposed rules.

But that study only counted beds licensed by the state Agency for Health Care Administration. The state agency only licenses inpatient beds, not outpatient or emergency room beds, said agency spokeswoman Kim Reed.

The proposed city code would have required that hospitals provide parking spaces for outpatient beds and emergency room beds, which also cause patients to park.

After meeting with hospital executives, city staff will report back to City Council in about three weeks.

_ Times Staff Writer David Karp can be reached at (813) 226-3376 or