Mother takes on Sequoia Hospital ER's lack of designated parking for the disabled
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Mother takes on Sequoia Hospital ER's lack of designated parking for the disabled

Jan 10, 2024

When Christine Rutledge rushed her disabled son to the emergency room of Dignity Health Sequoia Hospital in Redwood City on Aug. 11, the 63-year-old military veteran faced an uphill battle trying to find parking space designated for the disabled, or any space on a flat surface that would lead to the door of the ER.

While Rutledge circled the parking lot, she worried about getting her 35-year-old son, Derek Walters, into the ER before his condition worsened. Leaving Derek, who has severe cognitive impairment, alone in the ER wasn't possible while she searched for a parking spot. Derek can’t communicate for himself or make medical decisions, she said.

Designated parking for the disabled at the Sequoia ER, she learned the hard way, doesn't exist. Sequoia does have disability-accessible parking spots in a parking garage across the other side of the hospital complex; if she used one of those spots, Rutledge would have had to push her son in a wheelchair up a hill. Regular diagonal parking on the ER side is situated on another hill with a 30-degree slope. Trying to wheel a chair or a walker up the hill would be impossible, she said.

"I'm 63 years old. Lifting a 35-year-old man is not in the cards for me anymore," she said. "I feel like Derek's – and my – rights were violated."

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) guarantees persons with disabilities access to the same amenities, programs and services as anyone else, including parking and access to buildings. Under the law, 10% of patient and visitor parking must be ADA-accessible at hospitals where there are outpatient facilities (units where patients have less than a 24-hour stay). At least one of every six accessible parking spaces must be van accessible.

Another methodology applies to portions of hospitals that are not outpatient facilities. It requires a specific number of parking spaces in each lot to be ADA-designated. According to an official table, a parking lot that has between one and 25 spaces must have at least one that is disabled-designated; a lot with 26 to 50 parking slots would require two designated spots, and so on, according to the 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design and the California building code.

The ADA requires that disabled parking and other amenities such as access ramps be located at the nearest entrance to each parking lot, so spaces located in a garage on the opposite side of the building wouldn't necessarily comply with the law. The law also requires each parking lot to have the required ADA-compliant spots.

Stanford Hospital in Palo Alto and Kaiser Permanente in Redwood City both have ADA-compliant parking spots near their ERs. Kaiser has one patient drop-off location designated for people with disabilities about 50 feet from the ER doors and four ADA-compliant spaces, in addition to at least one for pregnant women, in the parking lot closest to the door. Stanford has at least two parking spots designated for people with disabilities in its small lot close to the doors of its ER.

Rutledge said the Sequoia ER parking lot, which has a flat portion at the top, also doesn't have any accessible-designated spots.

"Even worse than the lack of disabled parking spaces at the level top, was the lack of curb cuts, onto and off of the sidewalk leading down to the ER entrance, forcing the person in the wheelchair onto and into the one-way street that leads to the ER from Whipple Avenue. They really need some portable ramps out there until they get something more permanent," she said.

Rutledge added, "It's so inexcusable and so dangerous. That incline, in a manual chair, trying to control the chair from running away from you, is just outrageous. However, you're so close to the ER, so just in case the chair gets away from you and you crash into the asphalt, at least you wouldn't have to pay for an ambulance ride."

In a statement, Dignity Health said that ADA-accessible parking near the emergency department was originally removed to create a COVID-19 testing drive-through during the pandemic. The area is near a back entrance to the hospital that has since been closed off to increase the safety of patients and staff.

COVID-19 testing drive-throughs, Rutledge noted, ended a long time ago.

"Sequoia Hospital is working with an architect to develop a plan for new accessible parking near the entrance of the emergency department. Safety and access is our top priority and our security officers are available 24/7 to assist patients with disabilities until a permanent solution has been identified. Patients with disabilities are advised to pull up adjacent to the emergency department ambulance bay and request assistance from an on-site security team member," Dignity Health said.

There's no signage, however, instructing patients with disabilities about these procedures.

As far as Rutledge is concerned, Sequoia hasn't made temporary accommodations for people with disabilities.

When she was at the ER with Derek, she wanted to talk to a patient advocate about the parking situation. Security personnel eventually called someone, but they instructed her to walk around the building to the main entrance on the other side of the campus to meet them. Security wouldn't let her walk through the building. Instead, she would have to walk downslope to get to the other side. She would also have to leave her disabled son in the ER with an assistant who couldn't authorize care, she said.

Rutledge has two hip replacements and couldn't walk up and down the hill. She eventually drove to the main entrance to wait for someone to speak with about the parking situation.

As far as Rutledge is concerned, Sequoia hasn't made temporary accommodations for people with disabilities.

"There is no excuse for it. It's their job to stay compliant with the law. There is a person to blame here. It needs to not go on for another day," she said.