Kids still put first [The Spokesman-Review, Spokane, Wash.]
June 26, 2010
The Shriners Hospital for Children in Spokane begins billing insurance companies next week, a major change for a charitable organization that for decades cared for children with crippling bone, joint and muscle problems, and absorbed the expense.
Soaring health care costs, declining membership and the deep recession weakened the proud fraternity whose members wear fezzes, zoom around on scooters and carts in parades to the delight of children, sponsor college football's East-West Shrine game, and helped underwrite ticket sales to circuses across the country.
The problems were so severe that last summer the organization pondered the unthinkable: closing six of 22 hospitals, including its brick and glass landmark on West Fifth Avenue in Spokane. At this time last year the Shriners endowment for running its hospitals fell from $8.5 billion to $5 billion.
The Shriners' mission runs deep in Spokane -- nurses and surgeons have healed children for more than 80 years. Yet the local hospital had not lived up to expectations. Despite a busy outpatient center, about six of the hospital's 30 beds were filled on any given night.
During a national meeting last summer the general membership instead chose to act more like other hospitals and charge fees.
Families will now be asked for an insurance card upon their first visit to Shriners.
If they don't have insurance, it won't matter, said local Shriners spokeswoman Sally Mildren.
She said the Spokane hospital has nearly doubled its inpatient numbers to 13 a night after an aggressive marketing campaign that reached out to pediatricians across the region.