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As Children's Hospital moves, workers must decide where to park

About 1,400 employees will relocate in November to the new John R. Oishei Children's Hospital on the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus, and some are anxious about where they will park.

Medical Campus officials say there's no shortage of parking options for hospital staff.

But with just half of a new $40 million parking ramp behind the hospital completed, a limited 180 spots in the ramp will be available for Children's Hospital staff during the day until it is done next spring. The remaining spots are designated for patients or other Medical Campus staff.

Many hospital employees have to decide either to park at lots off campus within short walking distance of the new hospital at 818 Ellicott St. or opt to do a park-and-ride lot and take the Metro Rail.

They have also been given the option to car pool, ride a bike or continue to park in the John C. Gallagher Sr. ramp on Hodge Street across from the old Women & Children's Hospital site and take a shuttle to the new hospital.

"Will it be perfect for everyone on Day 1? Absolutely not," said William B. Smith, director of access for the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus Inc. "Will everyone be able to park and get to work? Yes. We will ensure that."

The issue has stirred anxiety among some employees at Women & Children's Hospital.

When substantially finished next May, the eight-story ramp – which replaces a demolished one at the same location that was half its size  – will have 1,825 parking spaces. It is connected to Children's hospital on the Medical Campus via a pedestrian bridge. In the short-term, just 180 parking spots are designated starting Nov. 10 for Children's Hospital staff. The monthly parking rate at the new ramp is $89, up from the $57 monthly rate charged at the Gallagher garage.

Kaleida Health is using seniority to determine who gets to park in those 180 spots.

Accommodating patients, their families and visitors is the top priority in the half-finished ramp, Smith said. At the outset, about 500 spots will be set aside for patients and visitors going to the new Children's Hospital, Buffalo General Medical Center, Gates Vascular Institute and UB's new medical school on the first four levels. The remaining 400 spaces available this fall will be divvied up between employees of campus institutions.

"We meet our patient and visitor demands, and what's left over, we offer to employees and students," Smith said. "It's up to institutions then to decide which one of their folks gets a spot. It might be seniority or what year a student is in."

The new Oishei Children's Hospital, shown here during construction in July, will open in November. (John Hickey/Buffalo News file photo)

Many Children's Hospital staff are frustrated by the options. Some expressed safety concerns or questioned how often shuttles will get them to the new hospital on Ellicott Street. Others worry over increased parking costs in some scenarios. Employer subsidies and discounts will lower some out-of-pocket costs.

Robert Mullen, a 45-year hospital mechanic, is one of the lucky ones, but noted some employees are upset "there is not enough parking" near the new hospital.

"It's based on seniority. I was worried about myself," Mullen said. "All I know is, I am lucky. I had a low enough number."

The concerns of other hospital staff who didn't make the seniority cut resonate with Mullen. Many workers are used to finding street parking near the Bryant Street hospital or park in the nearby Gallagher ramp or another surface lot at a former pharmacy on West Utica Street.

The former Eckerd lot on West Utica will no longer be used for staff parking, Smith said.

Shuttle service will not be offered overnight or on weekends, but hospital security will provide transportation for employees during off-hours when there is no shuttle service from the Gallagher ramp, said hospital spokeswoman Elizabeth Ortolani. She also noted that the hospital's 24-hour security will provide escorts to and from vehicles.

Along with BNMC staff, Kaleida officials have been meeting with employees to answer questions and assist them in registering for pre-tax benefits a month before the new parking kicks in.

"There are growing pains that we're going to run into, but we'll get there," Smith said. "It's about working cooperatively with the employees and understanding their needs."

Because there will be less overnight parking demand, Smith said more parking will be available overnight in the new ramp, and employees will be allowed access from 5 p.m. to 8 a.m. "The key is making sure we have patient and visitor access," he said. "Maybe we could open up a bit more."

Children's environmental services employee Michael Owens did not make the seniority cut for the new ramp. "I think I'll park at the LaSalle station and catch the Metro Rail," he said. "To pay $89 a month (in the new ramp) is ridiculous to come to work."

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