Special to The Spokesman-Review June 27, 2009 in Opinion
by Rich Hadley
“Finding out that your child has special needs is so overwhelming. It was such a comfort to know that we could get the best treatment available right here at home.” Those words, from my wife’s friend, Bambi Howe, of Spokane, echo what many other parents throughout the Inland Northwest are saying about Spokane’s Shriners Hospital for Children.
Howe’s first child had cerebral palsy symptoms. She said, “Shriners has provided care for him throughout the past 15 years, providing everything from splints to help him with walking, to casts to straighten his leg.”
This past spring, the family learned their daughter has a severe case of scoliosis. They headed back to Shriners Spokane, and next month she will get a brace to straighten her spine.
But now, the Howes and families throughout our region face the possibility Spokane’s Shriners will close.
Just like nearly everyone else during these tough economic times, Shriners Children’s Hospitals nationwide are hurting; the charity’s endowment has lost $3 billion. To stop the bleeding, Shriners’ governing body will vote in July whether to close Spokane Shriners and five other hospitals across the country.
Unlike other organizations and businesses, Shriners Hospital for Children has no steady income stream and accepts no payments. Our local Shriners operates on a $13.5 million budget solely from donations to treat an average 8,500 patients annually from Washington, Idaho, Montana, Alaska, Canada and Mexico. Where will these children get care if Shriners closes? Portland? It has 300-plus names on a waiting list for admission. Salt Lake City? That’s nearly 800 miles away; and with Shriners’ willingness to cover all transportation and housing expenses for patients and their families during their stay, it seems unlikely they’d begin to fly in patients from all across the Northwest.
More than half the procedures at Shriners Spokane are same-day surgeries. That eliminates the need for a lengthy hospital stay, and children can heal at home. At a time when health care reformers are clamoring for greater efficiencies, shouldn’t we applaud Shriners for their efforts instead of penalizing and handicapping them?
And, since many families are losing health insurance in this recession, an organization like Shriners is uniquely positioned to provide specialized care while children are treated in state-of-the-art facilities by pediatric orthopedic specialists, for free.
In addition, Shriners educates 30 medical and nursing students each year through pediatric internships. If Shriners closes, Spokane will lose a vital teaching center and an institution that’s been a part of the community since 1924.
Several generations of Howe’s family have gotten care at Shriners. Her mom had surgery for polio at age 13, which gave her the ability to walk.
Howe told me in an e-mail, “My mom would not have been able to receive treatment if Shriners were not here in Spokane. She was one of twelve children in a very poor family. Three of those twelve children had polio, and finances were simply not available.”
Our Shriners Hospital has treated 60,000 children over the past 85 years. It is a beacon of hope, help and healing. Bambi said it best: “It would be beyond tragic for our Shriners to close.”
This is a great community. It is time to stand up and pull together for Shriners.
You can help save Spokane’s Shriners Hospital for Children. Visit www.greaterspokane.org/ and click, “We Need Shriners.”
Rich Hadley is president and CEO of Greater Spokane Incorporated, a regional economic development group.