Watson and Hilton weren't at a fancy restaurant or a five-star hotel. Rather, Hilton had brought his mother to Riverside Regional Medical Center for some tests. This week, the Newport News hospital began offering free valet parking to patients and visitors. Leaders hope the weekday service will end long searches for parking spots - and long walks - at the hospital's campus off J. Clyde Morris Boulevard.
Riverside has joined a growing number of hospitals nationwide to add parking services to a list of patient frills that might include in-room Internet access and custom-cooked meals. The new Sentara CarePlex Hospital in Hampton also has free valet parking, while golf carts carry patients to the front door of Sentara Williamsburg Community Hospital.
As the cost of delivering health care increases, hospitals hope improved customer service will translate into more loyal patients - and more revenue.
"When our patients and visitors have to search for a convenient parking space, they can get frustrated at times," said Grady W. "Skip" Philips, senior vice president of operations. "It is our goal to have our customer experience at Riverside begin with as few hassles as possible."
Riverside expects to spend about $8,000 a month on valet parking, out of the hospital's overall operational budget. The service is available from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays at the hospital's main entrance. Several signs direct cars to a blue umbrella station set up outside the sliding doors. It was a pleasant surprise for Hilton, who has struggled to find a parking space on past visits.
"I've either had to drop her off first or wheel her in from anywhere I could park in that big lot," said the Hampton man, pushing a smiling Watson through the lobby. "I am so pleased with this."
So was Ted Fields, 70, who came to Riverside for an outpatient appointment in a wheelchair.
"It's nice to get out at the curb and not have to mess at all with the parking," Fields said. Across the country, companies that specialize in hospital valet parking are thriving. Riverside has contracted with Metropolitan Healthcare Services Inc., which works with medical centers in 13 states and has a regional office in Northern Virginia.
Another of the larger businesses, the Florida-based Healthcare Parking Systems, works with more than 70 hospitals. Under the company's "Front Door Services" package, valets open car doors, assist with equipment such as oxygen tanks and wheelchairs, give directions and enforce smoking policies.
Other hospitals have focused on creating more good parking options instead of investing in valets.
Mary Immaculate Hospital in Newport News, for example, last year added 200 spaces outside its new surgical pavilion. Riverside also is building a 600-space employee garage.
All of the changes sound good to patients.
"Oh, yeah," Alease Watson said. "I could get used to this treatment."
Published: January 6, 2005