Rogena Schuyler Silverman

“No man stands so tall as when he stoops to help a child.”


Diminishing funds are affecting many of the everyday services we have all taken for granted. Libraries, museums, and mail services have been limited; social programs have been trimmed; even national parks are under threat of closure. Everyone has been affected, including such philanthropic organizations as the Shriners Hospitals for Children.

Launched early in the last century by the Masons, the first Shriners Hospital for Children, in Shreveport, La, provided care for pediatric orthopedic patients, whose families were unable to afford treatment. That was in 1922. Now, 87 years and 22 treatment centers later, the nonprofit Shriners Hospitals (located throughout the United States, Mexico, and Canada) are legendary for helping more than 800,000 children, from all walks of life, cope with serious conditions. The Shriners extend free medical services to all children, under the age of 14, whose conditions—including spinal cord injuries, musculoskeletal issues, burn treatment, and cleft palate—can benefit from rehabilitation services.

Throughout the years, the Shriners Hospitals for Children have been able to offer costly surgical and rehabilitative services, such as physical, occupational, and speech-language therapies, through a generous endowment fund and significant contributions from individuals, foundations, and organizations. However, like many nonprofit organizations, the Shriners Hospitals have been hard hit by a sluggish economy, skyrocketing operational costs (more than $1 million daily to run the 22 hospitals), declining contributions, and a plummeting stock market—the organization’s endowment has fallen from $8.5 billion to $5.2 billion in less than a year. (In fact, a vote will be taken at the Shriners’ annual meeting this month that will likely result in closure of six of its facilities this year.)

“Unless we do something, the clock is ticking, and within 5 to 7 years, we’ll probably be out of the hospital business and not have any hospitals,” Ralph Semb, chief executive officer of Shriners Hospitals for Children, told The Associated Press.1

Some economists say that we have been through the worst of this recession, while others predict that the worst is yet to come. Either way, its effects are far-reaching, and unemployment is at a 25-year high. Seven in 10 children are living in low-income homes, and when a family is dealing with ministering to the needs of an ailing child or a child with disabilities, the disappearance of assistance services—from such government sources as Medicaid to private nonprofits, like the Shriners Hospitals for Children—can have catastrophic results, leaving the child untreated, or the family in complete economic disaster.

What are the solutions for such a dilemma, when the entire nation appears to be in financial straits? Are nonprofit organizations put “on hold,” while for-profit businesses help turn the economy around? Or do nonprofits stand a chance at some of the health care reform dollars? We’re interested in your opinions.

—Rogena Schuyler Silverman


  1. Facing hard times, Shriners may close hospitals. Available at: Accessed on June 9, 2009.

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