DENVER - Insufficient parking at the Denver Veterans Affairs Medical Center is making it more difficult for veterans to get the care they need.
"The worst is, there are no spots, first off," said 15-year Army veteran Lynn Stuart, who recently had knee replacement surgery at the VA Medical Center.
Stuart said he has struggled to find parking and safely make his way to his follow-up appointments.
"Somebody like myself would need to be as close as possible, but you can't get very close. You do have a lot of disabled veterans, a lot of handicap veterans, there's just no place for them to park," said Stuart.
During a site tour on Tuesday, 7NEWS witnessed a patient with a cast, walking on crutches take a fall on the walkway outside the VA parking garage. At the time, the head of VA facility operations was spreading salt on the sidewalk. Daniel Warvi, the Public Affairs Officer for the VA Eastern Colorado Healthcare System, was also present. Warvi found a wheelchair for the patient who fell and helped escort him inside.
According Warvi, 30 veterans were admitted to the hospital on Monday, Feb 3. On the same day, there were 2,011 outpatient visits. Even if each patient had two appointments, about 1,000 veterans would be at the VA that day. Add in the 1,900 VA employees, and that's 2,900 patients and workers on campus.
Those numbers do not include visitors.
However, Warvi said only about 400 patient parking spaces and approximately 500 employee spots are provided on the VA campus in Denver.
That would leave approximately 2,000 patients or workers without on-campus parking on any given day.
"We know we have parking challenges. It comes with our facility," said Warvi.
Hundreds of parking spaces were lost as a series of lots were closed, including a parking garage that was roped off last year. The VA had leased parking from the University of Colorado Denver, but those lots were slated for redevelopment.
"Over the years they’ve (CU Denver) always told us, 'There's redevelopment coming,' and they’ve always been very helpful, very affordable spots for us, but they’ve always let us know that at some point the redevelopment plans of the campus were going to go forward and they would have to take those spots back, and that’s where we’re at now," said Warvi.
"So it's no surprise," noted 7NEWS reporter Amanda Kost, "It's not like this happened overnight."
"It's been, not overnight, but it’s been kind of a death by a thousand cuts. Yeah, I guess we’ve known it's been coming and we've tried to make alternative plans," responded Warvi.
Warvi said an employee survey in December revealed the number one concern on campus was parking. In January, a task force made up of VA leaders was assembled to address the parking issues. Warvi is part of that group.
"We&'re limited here on the campus. There’s no possibility within the VA campus that we can expand any more parking. We're physically limited, full as we can get," said Warvi.
Warvi said there are no plans to add additional patient parking, but they are looking for parking alternatives for VA employees.
"We knew in 2004 that we needed to build a new hospital. We're the third fastest growing VA in the United States," said Warvi.
A new VA campus is under construction, but the estimated opening date was pushed back from this month to October 2015.
"I'm hearing you that the new facility is coming, but that's a ways away. What's being done right now to fix the parking problems here?" asked Kost.
"We've commissioned, we have a special group within our executive leadership team, we’re trying to identify areas within the neighborhood we could do," answered Warvi.
If patient parking is full on campus, the closest alternative is street parking or metered parking. Pay parking is $1 an hour, 2 hours max.
"During the time I was here I ended up getting three tickets, three parking tickets, because I was visiting (a family friend) as he was dying. I wasn’t worried about timing issues," said Anthony Withers.
According to the city and county of Denver Public Works records, 2,647 parking tickets were issued on Clermont St. between 8th Ave and E. Hale Pkwy. between Jan. 2, 2013 and Feb. 3, 2014. That stretch of road is directly in front of the VA hospital.
Another 233 parking tickets were issued on E. 9th Ave. between Colorado Blvd. and Dexter St. in the same period.
"Have you asked for any leniency in terms of (parking) enforcement?" asked Kost.
"Yes we have, but the Federal property ends at the sidewalk," answered Warvi.
Warvi said the VA is attempting to stagger patient visits to include evening and Saturday appointments.
"Is it safe to say that between now and when the new VA hospital opens, something has to be done?" asked Kost.
"No, something will be done. We'll have a solution. We'll come up with something," concluded Warvi.