Throughout the day, a shuttle drives north on North Nevada Avenue from Centura Health’s Penrose Hospital to a parking lot behind the Mortgage Solutions Financial Expo Center. It’s the most distant of two satellite lots (the other located on Cascade Avenue, slightly closer to the hospital) where Penrose Hospital’s employees — or at least those who aren’t physicians, certain technicians, and independent contractors — are now required to park.
Employees who fail to either leave their cars in this unlit, minimally secured lot or pay to park on-campus, risk a significant fine or the loss of their jobs should they park in the Old North End neighborhood, which is now patrolled by the hospital’s neighborhood parking enforcement. The private parking enforcement on public streets is Penrose’s reaction to complaints from the tiny neighborhood, which enjoys a close relationship with hospital leadership.
“We have had some employees who aren’t thrilled with the idea of pay-to-park or having to park off-site, but as people start doing it, they’re like, ‘Oh, I’ll just bring my lunch today and save that $3 to park instead of buying my lunch, or Starbucks coffee,’” says Penrose-St. Francis Health Services spokesperson Chris Valentine, who calls the system “relatively convenient.”
The two employee lots, which some employees have been voluntarily using for years, are a six-minute commute north of the hospital campus, which is located at 2222 N. Nevada Ave., and have ample spaces for employees to park their cars from the hours of approximately 5 a.m. to midnight (those starting work later can park on-campus). Valentine says the lots are fenced, and a security guard is present there when the shuttle is running.
The Independent visited the North Nevada lot over the course of two weeks at different hours, and noticed several security issues. The lot was not visible from Nevada or Cascade avenues and the fences were rusting and collapsing in certain sections. The wait for the shuttle was close to 12 minutes in the late afternoons, rather than Valentine’s claimed universal four minutes. The lot wasn’t lit in the evening, and we only spotted a single security guard in our three visits to the Cascade lot.
Chris, the husband of a Penrose contract employee, who asked that his last name not be used because he fears his wife could lose her job, says he is concerned for his wife’s safety when she walks to her car. Although employees do not have to park in the satellite lots after midnight, the sun sets as early as 4:30 p.m. in the winter. He notes the lots’ proximity to “low-end hotels,” adding, “There needs to be 24-hour security at this lot.” He’s also irritated that the hospital does not compensate employees for the added commute time.
While Chris says he has heard others raise concerns over the safety of lots as well, one male employee who spoke to the Independent said he has never felt unsafe parking or walking in the Cascade lot. Several others the Independent attempted to talk to at the lots refused to comment, while another three expressed ambivalence.
But those who don’t want to park at the lots have little recourse. Employees assigned to the lots who instead park on the street in the Old North End neighborhood are subject to what Valentine calls a “three strikes rule”: a warning, a fine of $250 deducted from their paychecks, and finally, termination from the hospital.
The situation is unusual in the city. According to city spokesperson Krithika Prashant, “with a few exceptions/provisions, new development projects must provide on-site parking consistent with the city’s required parking ratios.” The city sometimes makes an exception to that rule if “on-street parking opportunities” exist or if there are “shared parking agreements.”
In this case, the hospital chose to use the satellite lots and shuttle rather than building more parking on-campus. Instead of utilizing its “on-street parking opportunities,” it employed a private security company to ensure its employees stay out of the Old North End. A representative who answered the phone at the Colorado Springs Police Department said that “[parking is] being enforced by the hospital because they’re receiving complaints by the homeowners,” and therefore the ticketing by the hospital on public streets is permitted.
The Old North End Neighborhood Association has opposed intrusions onto its turf in other situations as well. The group has worked to reduce vehicle traffic by cutting lanes on some streets from two to one. And in the past year, ONEN successfully fought to alter the city’s Mountain Metropolitan Transit bus routes so that they don’t travel a single route every 15 minutes through the neighborhood. Their arguments for the change ranged from complaints about the appearance of bus benches to noise and other concerns.
Penrose has gone to great lengths to please its neighbors, forming a joint committee with them that has worked on parking issues for years, as well as the design of the hospital’s buildings, which were made to blend in to the area. “We have a hotline that they can call from their home to say, ‘Hey, there’s somebody parked in front of our house and they’re in scrubs and got out and are headed to the hospital,’” Valentine says. “So they call … and we’ll send somebody out to check out that vehicle for them.”
Samantha Klingenberg, president of the Old North End Neighborhood Association, says Penrose has “invested quite a bit of money trying to help the situation” of employees parking in the street. And Penrose doesn’t just offer those services to the Old North End, it also contributes to the Old North End Neighborhood Association. According to ONEN’s website, Penrose Hospital is a “Platinum Sponsor” of the neighborhood, donating a minimum of $2,400 each year.
“Any sponsorship stuff is completely separate from the working relationship we’ve created with this hospital,” Klingenberg says, calling the support “good faith.” She proceeds to favorably mention the “health programs the neighbors can take part in” and events like “affordable gardening classes” the hospital provides for the neighborhood as examples of this “symbiotic relationship.” But when we asked Klingenberg if she could provide an example of something the Old North End has done for the hospital, she said she did not know.
Speaking for Penrose, Valentine says the hospital is just trying to be “good neighbors.” But Chris — the concerned husband — wonders if the hospital would be so worried about pleasing its neighbors if the Old North End were a less affluent area.
“If it was any other neighborhood but the North End, or The Broadmoor, we wouldn’t be dealing with this situation,” he says.
While the Old North End and Penrose Hospital “work together to solve the issues,” employees continue to ride the shuttle to work. Chris says his wife knows employees who have decided to leave Penrose due to the change. “Those are the people who keep people alive,” he says, adding that the hospital has a “moral responsibility to the safety of [its] employees.”
But Valentine says that while he values employees, patients come first. “The bottom line is, our goal is to make things easy for our patients,” he says. “It’s a little more of a challenge for our employees and we’ve had to go a little more out of our way to make this possible.”
Penrose is set to move their primary hospital to a lot near the intersection of Centennial Boulevard and Fillmore Street, the same general area as both of their satellite lots. For now, at least, their system for employee parking will continue.
“We hope to be good neighbors to them too,” says Valentine of Penrose’s soon-to-be new neighborhood, which is home to lower-income households, mobile home parks, bars and large parking lots.
*Originally Published in the Colorado Springs Independent.