Easing a chronic pain: parking

City hospitals find that turning parkers' problems into better service is good medicine

Baltimore ... Or Less

April 04, 1999|By Stephanie Shapiro | Stephanie Shapiro,Sun Staff

Every day at the Johns Hopkins Hospital campus in East Baltimore, about four or five people lose their cars in one of the institution's four garages or two parking lots. Last year, the Hopkins staff helped visitors locate more than 1,600 vehicles, according to an annual security report.

Those naive in the ways of business may perceive that statistic as a liability. Not Joseph R. Coppola, the hospital's chief of security, parking and transportation services. For him, it's an opportunity to deliver "value-added" customer service.

"Here at Hopkins, service excellence ... is one of our imperatives," says the retired Secret Service agent, in charge of Maryland field operations during the Reagan administration. "We feel that by creating a welcoming atmosphere and facilitation of movement of visitors to our campus, we help deliver quality service. And of course, our campus is a very big place, with many, many buildings."

All told, there are 6,600 parking spaces at the hospital. Considering the volume of visitors, four or five lost vehicles a day is "not really out of line," Coppola says. "At Tysons Corner [shopping mall in Virginia], they run into those things as well. People are in a hurry, they forget to note where they parked their car. It's really happened to all of us."

It's also important to keep in mind that "When people come to a health-care facility they have other things on their mind besides parking their car," Coppola says. They aren't feeling well, their loved ones are in the hospital, they may be elderly and easily confused, they may be preoccupied. "So we really do train our folks to be looking out for people."

Assisting people in locating their cars is part of Coppola's staff's job description. The procedure is built into the daily routine in "any number of ways," Coppola says. "We could walk the floor with them" or escort them in a security vehicle or "a large golf cart with passenger capability."

Keeping a record of lost vehicles at Hopkins hospital is not so much a way of recording failure but success: Those 1,600 vehicles were lost -- and found! It's a way of making the "value-added services we provide known to the folks," says Coppola, who has been at Hopkins for five years.

Over at the University of Maryland Medical Center, no record of lost vehicles is kept, according to Michael Daniel, director of patient access services. He says that once or twice a week, visitors forget which of about 600 parking spaces contains their vehicle.

Like Coppola, Daniel spends the better part of his day turning potential crises into selling points. Getting visitors and patients from point A to point B is a process identified there as "way finding."

About 325 people a day are handed off from one "greeter" to another in a system intricately choreographed to get them from parking place to destination without incident. "It's part of our customer service program," Daniel says. He wants guests to "be comfortable in this environment. This is a downtown institution, and a lot of times visitors are intimidated by the city. We handle them with kid gloves as soon as they arrive."

Theoretically, Daniel says, "No one gets lost if, in fact, they walk up to the top of the garage -- the greeter is there, and there is only one way out."

Pub Date: 04/04/99

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