Auckland City Hospital's lowest-paid staff are taking duvets on their commutes and sleeping in their cars before their shift starts due to a dire lack of parking spaces.
Fierce competition for staff car parks has forced those working early mornings to arrive as much as 90 minutes before their shift starts just so they can guarantee they have somewhere to leave their car.
If they don't get to work early, they're often forced to park kilometres away, pay for expensive parking spots or risk being late to work - leaving them stressed and exhausted.
And things could be about to get worse, with a council trial starting next week reducing the available parks at the nearby Auckland Domain.
Auckland DHB admits parking at the hospital "can be challenging at times", but says it's a long-standing problem that has no easy solution - and they're doing their best to fix it.
But hospital workers and unions say the situation's been bad for years, and are calling for more parks to be made available and targeted, subsidised public transport options.
'If I can't get a park, it ruins my day'
Parking has long been a problem at New Zealand's largest hospital, with staff parking spaces reduced over the years and onsite building work meaning some will be unavailable for a while yet.
Andy Fogg, a delegate for the Public Service Association (PSA) - the union representing the hospital's DHB admin workers, mental health nurses, and those in allied health and technical roles - describes it as "a major issue".
"Over the years it's become very difficult for hospital staff to find a carpark when they drive to work. For many workers it has also become increasingly unaffordable [and] free staff parking has gradually been taken away," he told Newshub.
"It's not unusual for a hospital worker to get up before 4am so they can get to work before 5am and secure a park, when their shift doesn't start until 6:30am. Some workers bring duvets in the car, drive in early then put the seat back and try to catch up on sleep before they start."
Fogg says it's piling the pressure on and leaving staff "stressed out before they even start work."
Tereapi'i Whalen, a cleaner at Auckland City Hospital who carpools into Grafton with four of her colleagues early each morning, confirms the situation has gotten "really bad".
"The parking is terrible right now," she said.
"You start your day being upset because you can't get a park and you're running around and you feel like you've got to go, go, go all the time. And it's all because of the parking - if it's a bad day and I can't get one, it ruins my day."
Whalen and her co-workers set off at 5am for their 6:30am shift each morning. She says if they leave any later, they miss out on staff parks and are forced to park their car miles away.
"We have to go around looking for parking or park way down the road, and then go down on our break and come back and look for parking. It's actually annoying," she said.
"With the amount of staff working at the hospital, there's just not enough parking."
Auckland Council to remove dozens of nearby parks
The parking situation could be about to become even more dire next week, when an Auckland Council trial commences that'll reduce the number of parks available in the nearby Domain for the next year.
The changes, coming into effect on Tuesday, June 8, will see a total of 38 car parks in the Domain permanently removed and another 130 restricted to the hours of 9:30am-10pm from Monday-Thursday.
Councillor Pippa Coom says these changes are in response to an increase in vehicles parked at the Domain by commuters and workers who aren't using the park's facilities.
"That's making it difficult, especially during weekdays, for visitors who need to drive to find parking."
Whalen tells Newshub she and her co-workers park on side streets around the Domain when they're unable to find a spot on hospital grounds. But being a decent distance from work, it's far from ideal - and means staff are often moving their cars in the middle of the day.
"If we're lucky we can get parking there and then sometimes, when shifts change - some finish work at 2pm - you have to hurry, go get your car and come back and you get a park," she explained.
"Otherwise if we leave it any longer, we're on our feet all day and it's longer for us to walk [after work]."
Unions representing some of Auckland City Hospital's lowest-paid workforce say the removal of the Domain parks is just the latest in a series of parking woes for their members.
Kirsty McCully, a director of E tū - which represents cleaners like Whalen, as well as the hospital's security guards, orderlies and other service workers - says it's something the union may need to "embark on a conversation about" with the council.
"At the moment, I think what we can see is more parking being taken away and that putting more pressure on the very slim pickings for parking for them now and that having a pretty big impact on them potentially."
PSA delegate Fogg agrees, but says workers shouldn't have been forced to find parks in the Domain in the first place.
"A lot of Aucklanders face difficulties commuting to and from work; the hospital's problems are part of wider issues with public infrastructure. If some health workers were relying on public parking at the Domain, that's a symptom of this bigger problem."
An Auckland NZ Nurses Organisation delegate told Newshub while their members hadn't expressed concern about the removal of the parks, they predicted it would have "a really negative impact" given building work is going to limit parking onsite.
Public transport 'not fit for purpose'
An Auckland DHB spokesperson says while it acknowledges it's not always possible, "we encourage staff, patients and whānau who are travelling to our hospitals to look at other transport options".
Public transport connections to Auckland City Hospital are extensive, with two train stations within walking or cycling distance of Grafton and a number of major bus services operating along Park Rd and Symonds St.
The spokesperson says it's also continuing to work closely with Auckland Transport to further develop sustainable transport initiatives for people coming to the hospital.
But for many hospital staff on early-morning shifts, public transport isn't really a feasible option.
Whalen says the first bus that comes by her house leaves at 6am, so she and her colleagues would never make it to work in time if they caught it.
"We would always be late. And that's going to affect our job, you know - not many companies will put up with you being late every morning," she said.
"We get a bus [further away] that leaves about 5:30am, but it's quite a long way for me and it's a bit scary especially in the winter to leave home at 4:30am and walk… if we walk or my colleagues walk, we're quite scared for our safety."
McCully says the system simply isn't fit for purpose.
"Some people misunderstand that hospital workers do cover a 24/7 role and some have specific needs and reasons to be able to go to work at unsociable hours," she explained.
"We'd love to say public transport is so good that it meets the needs of everybody and everyone can use it because it's cheap and safe and effective… but that's not necessarily the reality for people right now. So how do we deal with it?"
McCully says E tū is in ongoing discussions over the best way to solve the parking and public transport issues for its members at public hospitals.
While any specific solutions will be member-led, McCully says some potential answers could lie in subsidising public transport or parking, or specific parking being made available.
Auckland DHB responds
In a statement to Newshub, an Auckland DHB spokesperson says it's important to them that staff can get to work in a way that is "safe and convenient for their needs".
The spokesperson acknowledged parking at Auckland City Hospital could often be tricky, but said it's a "long-standing challenge" with "no easy solution."
"With a staff of 12,000 across the DHB, and hospitals that continue to expand to meet the needs of a growing population, we're unable to provide enough parking for everybody who wants to park on our Grafton site.
"We'll continue to prioritise parking for our patients, as well as shift and on-call workers who need to access the hospital quickly. As part of that we've recently negotiated discounts for our staff at 10 car park sites close to Auckland City Hospital, and are negotiating to increase parking options in the vicinity of our Grafton campus.
"In addition, we run a free shuttle for staff between some of these car park sites, our Grafton site and Greenlane Clinical Centre (which offers free parking for staff).
"For our staff who, for a variety of reasons, do park on-site, there are a number of discounted parking options available."