140 year of Shriners

140 year of Shriners

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Upstate rallies to save Shriners hospital

The Following story is only one of such stories from around the country where Shriners Hospitals for Children are on the closure list.
What are you doing to help the hospital in your area? It could be on the next list! There are six units listed in this article. One of them is in the west.

By LIV OSBY - The Greenville News

Word of the possible closing of the Greenville Shriners Hospital for Children has mobilized the community, with calls for fundraisers, letter-writing campaigns and even a Facebook page dedicated to keeping the facility open.

The hospital is one of six around the country that face closure as the organization deals with financial problems.

But patients, their families, local Shriners and residents say that would be a huge loss for the community and are taking steps to stop it.

“It’s unreal the calls I’m getting,” said Bob Rogers, recorder for the Shriners Hejaz Temple in Mauldin. “A lot of people are saying ‘What can we do to help?’ “

Fourteen-year-old Brooklynn Myers, who had spinal surgery at the hospital in December, collected money at her church softball game Saturday, and her mom wants to host a softball tournament to benefit the hospital.

“We definitely want to do something to help,” said Bridget Myers. “Everything they have done for Brooklynn has been free of charge.”

Gina White says she’s going to do whatever she can, too. Her daughter, Miracle, was born with spina bifida and has been a patient at Shriners for 13 years, undergoing 37 surgeries to keep her spine from crushing her internal organs. Now 15, Miracle must return to the hospital every two weeks and was just hospitalized eight weeks for an infection.

“If it were not for Shriners Hospital in Greenville, she would not be here,” said the Batesburg woman. “Shriners is a major part of our life. Closing the hospital would be traumatizing.”

Joe Rossi of Greenville is a drummer in a local band who wants to stage a benefit concert in June with some other area bands. His former stepdaughter, Marissa Brown, was a patient at Shriners Cincinnati burn center after being scalded by hot tea.

“At the time, I did not have insurance, and an angel appeared in the form of a Shriner,” he said. “Through many years of surgeries, (she) is now an 18-year-old beautiful woman.”

“They did take care of me,” said Brown, of Pickens. “I love them to death.”

Rodney Brown, chairman of the board of governors for the Greenville Shriners Hospital, said he’s been contacted by many who want to help. And Rogers said local Shriners are working on fundraisers, such as the “I Can Help” festival at the temple on May 23.

Ralph Semb, chief executive officer of Shriners Hospitals for Children, said he’s impressed so many people want to help. But cuts must be made one way or another because the organization can’t continue drawing down its endowment to make up for the budget shortfall, he said.

“We want to continue to take care of children,” he said. “But if we do business the same way, we won’t have any money left.”

Semb said inpatient volumes are down throughout the 22-hospital system as more is done on an outpatient basis. Already, he said, construction has been halted on hospitals in St. Louis, Los Angeles and Montreal, and several hospitals are destined for consolidation.

The other hospitals on the list are Erie, Pa.; Spokane, Wash; Shreveport, La, and Springfield. A hospital in Galveston, Texas, closed since it was damaged in Hurricane Ike, is also on the list.

The Greenville hospital treated about 15,000 children with orthopedic conditions last year and employs 249 people. Semb said it made the list because it is underutilized.

Brown disputes that, saying the hospital sees more patients every year, always operates under budget and is the only Shriners hospital between Florida and Kentucky.

Aside from investment losses, the Shriners are hampered by a changing culture that has left the once 940,000-member organization with just 350,000 members, most 70 or older, Semb said. That means fewer members to raise funds for the hospitals, which provide special orthopedic and burn care to children at no charge regardless of ability to pay.

The organization uses income from an endowment to run the hospitals, but it dropped from $8 billion to $5 billion, he said. And to keep all the hospitals running, the endowment needs to grow to $12 billion by 2014.

Officials are exploring a relationship with Greenville Hospital System, including the system purchasing the facility with Shriners Hospital continuing to provide the medical services, he said.

Dr. William Schmidt, medical director of GHS’s Children’s Hospital, said a variety of options are being considered.

Meanwhile, some 1,200 Shriners will vote whether to close the hospitals, cut their budgets by 25 percent to 30 percent, or do nothing at all at their annual meeting in July.

“My guess is the representatives will vote with their hearts and keep the hospitals open,” Semb said. “And then it will be a 25-30 percent decrease in operating budgets. I’m not sure they can survive that.”

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