Shriners Hospital for Children Could Face Closure This Year

SPRINGFIELD — Citing rising costs, a shrinking endowment, and sharp decreases in donations, the Shriners Hospitals are considering closing six of their 22 facilities across the U.S. — including Shriners Hospital for Children on Carew Street.

The organization’s board of trustees will discuss options at its July meeting to stem significant losses that have forced the system to withdraw some $1 million per day from its endowment.

That fund has fallen to $5 billion from $8 billion in less than a year because of the stock-market downturn and a slowdown in charitable giving that has affected nonprofits nationwide. The fund has been declining since 2001.

“Unless we do something, the clock is ticking, and within five to seven years we’ll probably be out of the hospital business and not have any hospitals,” said Ralph Semb, CEO of Shriners Hospitals for Children, in a statement to the Associated Press.

Mark Niederpruem, administrator of the 40-bed hospital, had no comment on the impending decision. Bernadette White, Public Relations director for the Springfield facility, said nothing will be known until July.

The Shriners Hospitals system opened in 1922 with a facility in Shreveport, La., that specialized in treating polio. Sinced then, it has become internationally renowned for its work treating children, especially those with orthopedic conditions, burns, spinal-cord injuries, and cleft lip and palate. More than 1 million children have been treated in the hospital system, all free of charge.

According to Semb, the current annual operating budget for the hospital system is $856 million — a figure that has risen by about $100 million in each of the past two years, while donation levels remained static, he said.

At the July meeting in San Antonio, about 1,200 Shriners will vote on whether to close Shriners hospitals in Springfield; Shreveport, La.; Erie, Pa.; Spokane, Wash.; and Greenville, S.C.

Semb said these sites were chosen mainly because of too many vacant beds. Many of their patients would be sent to other Shriners hospitals. In addition, the organization will decide on the fate of a hospital in Galveston, Texas that was closed temporarily after damage from Hurricane Ike and has not reopened. Closure of any hospital requires a two-thirds majority vote.

Two other options for the Shriners are keeping all 22 hospitals open or a nationwide 30{06cf2b9696b159f874511d23dbc893eb1ac83014175ed30550cfff22781411e5} budget cut. Semb has set that, to accomplish either, Shriners would have to grow the endowment to about $12 billion by 2014, which is unlikely, given current economic trends.

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