Why some nonprofit hospitals are turning to patients for donations

Alyssa Rege - Print  | 

Hospitals like the Baltimore-based Johns Hopkins Hospital and Los Angeles-based Cedars-Sinai Medical Center are increasingly turning to donations from patients and their families to supplement their income streams from insurance programs and fundraising, The New York Times reports.

Four things to know:

1. Many hospitals nationwide are conducting wealth screenings of patients who visit their facilities, using software that culls public data to gauge which patients may be able to provide sizeable donations. Those who seem like promising donors often receive a visit from a hospital executive or receive extra amenities for themselves and their visiting family members, the report states.

2. Such tactics are trending among nonprofit hospitals, which are searching for new ways to supplement their existing funding streams. A 2016 survey by the Advisory Board found 68 of the 108 hospitals surveyed had some type of "grateful patient program" in place at their facilities.

3. Bill Littlejohn, the senior vice president and CEO of the San Diego-based Sharp HealthCare Foundation, told The New York Times patient donations accounted for two-thirds of the $34 million donated to the health system in 2018. He said Sharp HealthCare screens up to 400 patients per night and adds between 10 and 20 to its database of potential donors.

"I'm not asking them for money [when I visit], but I tell them we appreciate them choosing Sharp and hope they have a wonderful experience. I use [the visit] as a get-to-know-you opportunity and let them know Sharp is a nonprofit and philanthropic-supported institution," Mr. Littlejohn said.

4. Some systems, like Sharp HealthCare, train physicians and nurses to identify patients who express gratitude for their care and inform them of upcoming fundraising events. However, the practice of using medical professionals to solicit donations presents a cause for concern among some healthcare workers.

"It makes doctors very uncomfortable for a lot of reasons — No. 1 is that the doctor is there to see the patient for a problem they have and not to ask the patient for money. I feel like the risk is we are setting up a two-tiered healthcare system — one for wealthy patients and one for everyone else," Rosalyn Stewart, MD, an internist at Johns Hopkins and associate professor at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in Baltimore, told the publication.

To access the full report, click here.

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