The high cost of hospital parking should not keep loved ones away
By Tom Mullaney
Can a hospital parking pass aid the medical recovery of seriously ill infants? Carrie Meghie thinks it can. And she and her husband have established a foundation that funds a unique program at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital.
Meghie gave birth prematurely to the couple’s first child, Jackson Chance, in November 2011. However, the infant’s lungs were severely compromised and could not provide him with enough oxygen. With his parents at his side, Jackson struggled for 10 months in the hospital’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) before succumbing on Sept. 7, 2012.
Every day during their long ordeal, Meghie visited their son and spent the entire day holding him and playing with him. She says she tried to turn his nursery into a home. She read to him from a child’s alphabet book, Chicka Chicka Boom Boom. In spite of his condition, Jackson was always smiling and liked kicking his feet to the reggae music his father would play for him.
“He was such a happy baby. He had an amazing life spirit,” says Meghie. She is certain that her and her husband’s constant presence helped prolong his life. Once Jackson died, Meghie sought some way to honor his name and legacy. “I wasn’t going to be simply that mother who lost her child.”
In seeking how to honor their son, the Meghies thought back to the stunning high cost of their first month’s parking bill at the hospital: close to $2,000. They thought back to how they saw other children in the NICU often alone, and they deduced that the exorbitant parking fees were likely preventing some parents from visiting their children. (Half of the infants in Lurie’s 44-bed NICU are from families on Medicaid, with an average stay of 28 days).
“We wanted to take that burden away from them,” Meghie says.
The couple’s determination gave rise to the Jackson Chance Foundation. Since September 2013, every parent who drives to visit their child at Lurie receives either a seven-hour or 24-hour daily pass that provides free parking. Up to 10 families can receive a monthly pass.
Parents have told Meghie what a difference the program has made in their lives. “The parking voucher was an amazing and unexpected blessing while our little guy was in the NICU,” one mother wrote to Meghie. “Life doesn’t stop while your baby is in the hospital, and the parking voucher gave us peace of mind while we were enduring the toughest moments of our lives.”
Another parent, whose son was in the NICU for eight months, wrote about how the parking program eased their minds of the financial burden. “This has allowed us to visit our son every day. Without this gift, these memorable visits would not have been possible. We cannot thank you enough.”
Meghie is not alone believing in the health benefits of the parking program. Micki Arrizola, director of Lurie’s NICU facility, confirms that “infants whose families use the program have a shorter length of stay, and parents’ anxieties on leaving the NICU are reduced by the [extra] time spent with their kids.”
Since the program began, Lurie has distributed more than 12,700 passes, at a total cost of $162,000, which has been fully funded by the foundation. Meghie estimates that the foundation has raised close to $800,000 to date. Its goal is to raise $2 million to endow the program permanently at Lurie. Once Lurie is fully funded, Meghie says she would like to endow a similar effort for the NCIU at adjoining Prentice Women’s Hospital.
It hosts two annual special events: the Playing It Forward Ping Pong Ball at the Hard Rock Hotel each fall, where sponsored team tables go for up to $10,000. The other is the Rock & Roll Half-Marathon and 5K to be held on July 19 in Grant Park. Lurie will have a team in the race, which Meghie hopes will raise over $60,000.
Arrizola says she is “extremely touched” by the unique program and speaks highly of it to colleagues at hospital conferences. “I feel that the generosity and commitment made by Carrie [Meghie] has a tremendous impact on our families,” she says. “Every family in NICU is touched by it every day.”