Petition started to exempt child hospital patients' parents from parking fees

HOUSTON, Texas -- A Houston family's idea to eliminate parking fees for some at the Texas Medical Center spread quickly on social media. The Westfalls created an online petition asking for families with sick children to be given free parking.

Rick Westfall said personal experience led them to ask for help. He estimated he's spent thousands of dollars in parking fees.

His son, Daniel, was born with half a heart in the 1990s. They've been in and out of hospitals ever since. He recently suffered a stroke in July.

"My daughter was coming up every day and she said something about parking. My brother came up. He was talking about parking," said Westfall. "The next thing, I know I'm asking people if they're not coming up because of parking. It was yes. To be honest, it gets expensive."

Daniel is now 22 years old and recently became a father. He said he's feeling better and recovered quick.

Gay Foust runs the charity Candlelighters Childhood Cancer Family Alliance. The organization helps families with children battling cancer. They provide all types of support including meal vouchers and parking credits.

She is not affiliated with the Westfalls or their petition. Foust does say parking fees can rack up in the Texas Medical Center. On average, she said, parents of a child diagnosed with leukemia can expect to spend $5,000 in parking fees during their first year of treatment.

"We budgeted $80,000 this year to help," said Foust. "It is not unusual for families to open an additional credit card that they have just for the parking expense."

Foust said her organization constantly needs support. If you're willing to help, visit their website.

When asked about parking fees, most hospitals referred Eyewitness News to the Texas Medical Center corporate officers, which operates the garages. Repeated requests for comment have gone unanswered as of Thursday evening.

Texas Children's Hospital released the following statement:

"Texas Children's Hospital is committed to providing the best possible care and experience for all patients and families and understands that when children require lengthy inpatient stays or ongoing, frequent outpatient care, families can face a financial burden. Any family who faces a financial burden due to hospitalization or chronic outpatient care at Texas Children's can engage the hospital's social work department to help connect them to community resources and support services that are applicable to their situation."
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