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Editorial: Shriners deserves a stronger spotlight

The national Shriners organization has been forced to compromise its mission of no-cost health care for children with special orthopedic needs, but it is a change that will keep the Spokane hospital and five others around the country open.

The Shriners board decided last summer to begin billing the health insurance carriers of families who have coverage. That practice begins soon in Spokane and will be spread to all 22 Shriners hospitals nationwide by the end of next year. Those without coverage will continue to get free care.

That is a far better solution than closing the doors of six facilities. Had that happened, Inland Northwest patients would have had to travel to Portland or Salt Lake City for the nearest Shriners hospital.

The changes were precipitated by $3.5 billion in investment losses in the Shriners endowment. Plus, the Spokane hospital was down to an average of six inpatient visits per day in a 30-bed hospital, though outpatient visits were steady. Rising health care costs haven’t helped either. A spinal fusion alone carries a $140,000 price tag.

Half of the Spokane operation’s $13 millon annual budget came from the endowment, with the rest coming from donations. The billing of insurance companies will help fill budgetary holes and keep the doors open. More aggressive marketing aimed at pediatricians has helped boost the Spokane hospital’s admittance total to an average of 13 per day.

This is great news for the community in general and for current and future patients in particular. Last summer, it looked as if the Spokane hospital would have to either shut down or downsize to an outpatient-only facility. The families of the more than 60,000 children who have been helped by Spokane Shriners can attest to the need.

However, the Spokane hospital could remain in jeopardy if the region doesn’t use it more. Though the current facility has been in place since 1991, it still seems to have gone unnoticed by many people. The focus of the hospital is on children under 18 who suffer from orthopedic conditions, burns, spinal cord injuries and cleft lip and palate.

Many cases involve years of surgery and rehabilitation to correct birth defects. The costs of such extensive treatment would bankrupt many families. Even if insurance is billed, it remains a great bargain.

This region is fortunate that Shriners has chosen to place a hospital here. Many larger cities do not have one. So spread the word, because greater use will help keep it open.


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