The University of Michigan held a groundbreaking for its new $920-million-dollar hospital on Friday, featuring remarks from University President Mark Schlissel and U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Ann Arbor. Outside the private event, dozens of Michigan nurses stood holding signs and chanting protests such as “U of M you can’t hide, we can see your greedy side,” and “U of M, you’re no good, treat your workers like you should.” 

The nurses were protesting a lack of sufficient parking options at Michigan Medicine for hospital employees. Earlier this year, over 250 employee parking spaces were converted to patient-only parking spots. This made it increasingly difficult for nurses and other hospital staff to find adequate parking and get to work on time, according to Michigan Medicine nurses. The nurses protested at the Board of Regents meeting on Sept. 18, but said they do not feel like the University heard their concerns. 

According to Katie Oppenheim, chair of the University of Michigan Professional Nurse Council, this parking shortage has existed at Michigan for decades. While it’s great the University keeps building new buildings and improving its facilities, there is a need for new parking structures too, Oppenheim said.

“They continue to build buildings — the cardiovascular center, which has very small parking lot, where only patients can park in any case, and then the Children’s and Women’s Hospital, which added hundreds of beds with no additional parking,” Oppenheim said. “The structure that’s going to be built right here, in this particular spot, also has no parking to go along with it. So what we are saying is that the University needs to fix this parking problem.”

Oppenheim said the inadequate parking facilities can prevent nurses from doing their job and potentially put them in danger due to dimly lit parking lots. 

“The most important thing for nurses is that we can get to work in a timely, safe, efficient fashion to take care of patients and families, and that we can leave in a timely fashion to take care of ourselves,” Oppenheim said. “That isn’t happening. People are coming to work hours and hours early or parking in dark, off site lots with inefficient shuttle transportation. So we’re here to let the administrators, this event, this VIP groundbreaking is an event where the Board of Regents are all around here now as well as the administration of the University and the health system.”

Michigan Medicine nurse Kenneth Warshaw told The Daily he makes the commute from Toledo every day. He said while it takes him around 45 minutes to get to work every day, he leaves an hour and a half early in order to find parking. Warshaw said he parks in a lot near Mitchell Field, which, according to him, is a 10-15-minute walk from the hospital. He noted some people have to park two and a half miles away. 

Warshaw said he is proud to work at the hospital, but he thinks the University needs to take into consideration the parking needs of the employees. 

“I think they always have to invest in what we have going here. We all know the University of Michigan hospital is a great place, but they’re not preparing enough for the parking,” Warshaw said. “If they’re going to have 1,000 new employees, then we have to accommodate that for the parking, and I don’t think they’re responding to that part at all.”

Warshaw also said the University needs to invest in the hospital employees because they are the ones that are responsible for patient care.

“They are spending a lot of money on this new hospital, but they are not investing in getting the employees to work, to care for these patients that are going to be in the new hospital,” Warshaw said. “If we have to show up an hour or even longer before your shift, it makes your day long, and a lot of nurses work 12-hour shifts. So they have to invest in the parking too.”

According to a fact sheet from Michigan Medicine, 250 additional spots were created in the garages connected to the hospitals and a new parking structure, containing 1,000 additional spaces, will open in the fall of 2020. Alternate transportation strategies including buses are also available to employees. 

“We have added more buses and more direct routes several existing parking lots,” the sheet reads. “New off-site parking and transportation options are available north and east of our medical campus… In addition to these short-term improvements, planning will continue on our long-term parking and transportation strategies.

At the groundbreaking, the speakers addressed University administrators, Michigan Medicine administrators, the Board of Regents and Dingell. Schlissel spoke about Michigan’s first hospital 150 years ago and discussed the great strides Michigan Medicine has made since. 

“150 years ago, in 1869, U of M established the first hospital owned and operated by a university,” Schlissel said. “It was a historic and important moment, not just for Michigan but for the future of healthcare. It had 20 beds, no wards or operating suites and was located in the residence of a former professor. It was probably less expensive.”

Dave Spahlinger, president of the University of Michigan Health System, spoke about the necessity of the new hospital to improve the experiences of both patients and hospital employees.

“Many of you know that for many years Michigan Medicine has faced challenges of patient access,” Spahlinger said. “Our University hospital runs at full capacity on a daily basis and operating on that level is stressful for everybody. With a new inpatient facility, we will improve not only the environment for patients, but the environment in which our caregivers practice.”

Dingell praised Michigan Medicine for being a leader in health care for hospitals all around the country. She said this new hospital will be a great way to ensure the University continues to provide the best health care it can. 

“Health care is my passion,” Dingell said. “I don’t think people realize the jewel that we have here at the University of Michigan, and the cutting-edge research that’s being done here, and how it’s not only helping people in the state of Michigan, but people throughout the world, and we need to make sure that research continues because it is saving lives, extending lives and inventing medicine.”

Caitlin Wetzel, the last speaker, is a patient at the University Hospital. She said she has received the best care possible at U-M’s hospital. Wetzel said this new hospital will help many more people experience the same level of care she did. 

“My Michigan Medicine teams are the best at what they do, but they truly become a part of my family,” Wetzel said. “The care and support my family and I have received with Michigan Medicine has been unparalleled. I have friends who treat with other hospitals and it breaks my heart because they should be here. Breaking ground on this hospital of the future will allow more patients access to all-star, comprehensive neurological care.”

This story has been updated from an earlier version to include a response from Michigan Medicine regarding parking solutions and strategies.

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