Employees were competing for parking spots with New Hanover's booming patient population. The leadership team was especially concerned about the safety of clinicians forced to park far away, with most working 12-hour shifts, Walsh said.
So in December, the hospital opened a new parking garage just for the 700-person clinical staff. It also is using technology from Indect, a parking guidance company. Indect's sensors communicate with a sign at the garage's entrance with updates on many spots are available. The five-floor garage has 720 spots.
Another electric sign indicates how many spots are available on each floor. There are also LED lights above each parking spot. A red light indicates that a car is in the spot while a green light means that the spot is open.
The light, which can be seen from hundreds of yards away, is a critical feature, said Dale Fowler, president of Indect. Many times people overlook available spots. In fact, Fowler said that most institutions have enough parking for everyone but spots—sometimes thousands of them—are simply being missed. The lights help ensure that every spot is being used.
It's not just New Hanover dealing with this problem. A study released last year by transport analytics firm Inrix found that drivers in the U.S. spend an average of 17 hours a year searching for spots on streets, in lots or in garages. That results in an estimated $345 per driver in wasted time, fuel and emissions per year.
Fowler said his company's technology can lift a garage's occupancy rate to 100%. It can also make garages more cost-effective. After all, every parking spot in a new garage costs roughly $30,000. It costs about $400 to put a sensor over a parking spot.
"I'm sure (hospitals) have better things to do with millions of dollars than build more parking garages. It is a better use of their capital to use what they have more efficiently," Fowler said.
New Hanover also installed blue lights to indicate handicapped-accessible parking and pink lights to indicate spots where staff can charge electric vehicles.
The staff is thrilled with the changes, Walsh said. "I've built a lot of things in my career—I've never had so many people be so positive about a parking garage. Everyone is so satisfied because they know they are going to find a space and they know exactly where the space is." Patients say it's also easier to find a spot now that fewer employees are parking in the other lots. Walsh said that some employees were initially concerned about the garage's location. It's across the street from the hospital campus, and a skybridge was installed to connect the two.
"There was a bit of apprehension (from employees) that they might have to walk farther, but that was quickly overcome by the easy ability to find a spot and know they had a spot," he said.
The hospital is considering installing the Indect technology in other lots across its campus and in future lots.
Fowler said hospitals are a growing part of Indect's business portfolio. In addition to New Hanover, the company has installed its technology at the Mayo Clinic and Texas Medical Center's Children's Hospital. That's not surprising, considering the industry's increased efforts to satisfy its consumers. "We traditionally haven't done a lot of healthcare, but it's an area we have seen grow quite quickly over the last 12 months," he said.
Fowler's healthcare clients see it as an opportunity to improve the patient and the employee experience. "People going to a hospital are usually very stressed, and they are in a hurry, generally. This is a way to make the experience smoother for everyone."