Shriner's Hospital Network Faces Possible Closures

Shriner's Hospital Network Faces Possible Closures

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Sammy Linebaugh reportingAs charitable organizations across the board feel budgets tighten, the 80 year old charity hospital network will vote Monday whether to close its Minneapolis hospital, and perhaps others.

How will Monday's decisions affect Utah? Right now the Salt Lake hospital has about 5,000 active patients. We spoke with one father who says doctors here have changed his daughter's life.

The question is, how long can they continue their work.

Jesus Yoguez has spent six years seeking medical help for his twin daughters Edna and Liliana, born two and a half months prematurely.

Jesus Yoguez: "Since they were born, I went looking for help all over the place."

Liliana, in particular, had difficulty walking because of a muscular disorder. But Yoguez didn't have the insurance to pay for surgery.

A phone call to Salt Lake's Shriners Hospital changed everything.

Jesus Yoguez: "For first time, first time, nobody ask me questions about insurance."

Bennie Williams/Shriners Hospital: "In cases of insurance or federal monies, we accept neither. Because, simply, we want our medical staff to tell us how long a kid is sick. Not the government, and not an HMO."

And so is the mandate of the Shriners North American network, which since the 1920's has provided free specialized healthcare to kids.

Currently, there are 22 hospitals across the U.S., Canada and Mexico.

But Bennie Williams, who chairs the Intermountain Board of Governor's, says a budget squeeze could force some hospitals to shut down.

Bennie Williams: "We are now beginning to feel the bite, as everyone is."

The hospital's endowment has lost $2 billion, roughly one-forth of it's total value, in the past three years.

For now, he says, the Salt Lake hospital is not up for closure, in part because demand for services here is steady.

And, he says, if the Los Angeles hospital is closed, as is currently under consideration, Salt Lake can expect to pick up even more patients.

Bennie Williams: "We're anticipating that the load on this hospital will be significantly increased with any closure of Los Angeles."

In that case, all they'd need is the endowment money to continue providing free care.

Bennie Williams will be in Minneapolis Monday for the annual meeting, when he hopes to get a more realistic picture of all the possibilities.

As for Liliana, she stood up today, for the first time since her surgery.

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