HAGERSTOWN — With a tip of the hat and a friendly smile, the valets at Meritus Medical Center try to ensure that patients make it out of their cars and safely inside the hospital’s revolving-door entrance.
The valet parking service began Tuesday and operates Mondays through Fridays from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Patients can drop off their cars with attendants at a stand outside the hospital’s main entrance, where they can expect to see it waiting for them when they are ready to leave, free of charge.
“We help every customer we can. If there’s anything we can do to assist the hospital, we do it,” said Howard Randall, manager-on-site for A Better Choice Parking Service.
Valet parking is targeted at elderly and disabled patients who would otherwise struggle with the long walk between the hospital entrance and the parking lot, said Amy Donoghue, manager for external transport.
Donoghue said the parking service is not a response to any specific complaints from patients. The hospital started looking into valet options when hospital staff, particularly those at the wound center, noticed many patients struggling to get to the entrance from their cars, Donoghue said.
Many patients do not have handicapped tags because their disabilities are temporary, and they were at a particular disadvantage, Donoghue said.
Washington County Hospital offered a garage and shuttle service. Meritus Medical Center has an extensive parking lot, and it became clear that a solution was needed.
“We realized the parking was a lot more spread out. Even though it’s flat, it can be pretty far,” Donoghue said.
Hagerstown resident Penelopy Murphy took advantage of the valet service for the first time Thursday. She said she was impressed by the attendants, who helped her out of her wheelchair and into her car as she left the hospital.
“It’s wonderful. This is better than the shuttles at the old hospital,” Murphy said.
Donoghue, who founded and organized the parking service, said the hospital started looking into parking options in February. She discovered A Better Choice Parking Service during a visit to Frederick Memorial Hospital.
“They were great, and Frederick was pleased,” she said.
The valet parking is one of several temporary measures the hospital is taking to improve its parking situation, said Meritus Health Chief Operating Officer and Vice President for Operations Deborah Addo Samuels.
The hospital also has opened a temporary lot off Medical Campus Road across from the Robinwood Professional Center, Samuels said.
The hospital eventually plans to double the number of handicapped spots in front of the hospital, build new parking areas and push employee parking further from the building, said Kelsey Wilkes, a project manager for Meritus.
Director of Corporate Communications Mary Rizk said the hospital plans to add about 350 parking spaces by this fall.
Until then, with limited handicapped parking, patients are taking full advantage of the valet service.
Randall said he helped about 18 patients on the service’s first day, and he expects the numbers to grow. For now, two attendants run the stand, but there will be three once more people start using the service.
“After people get accustomed to it, I’m sure it will pick up,” he said. “It’s going great.”
Even without a rush of patients, the parking attendants are busy. The two valets help patients out of cars and into wheelchairs if necessary, drive cars to a reserved parking lot, return to their station and pick up cars when patients are ready.
Before they leave, the attendants leave remaining keys with hospital security and move respective cars as close to the entrance as possible.
“They help (patients) out however needed,” Donoghue said. “The group we contracted with is very professional. People love it.”