The Shriners Hospital for Children in St Louis, Missouri is an 80-bed facility serving Missouri, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Kansas,
Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Arkansas. The hospital provides surgical and rehabilitative services for children under the age of 18 whose parents can demonstrate financial need. Plans have been announced for a much larger facility sharing space on the Barnes-Jewish/Washington University Medical Campus, and construction is poised to begin shortly.
Think of the Ancient Arabic Order of the Nobles of the Mystic Shrine — more popularly known as Shriners – as the party animals of the Masonic Brotherhood: founded in 1870 by a doctor and an actor who felt that the Masonic precept of brotherly love would benefit if it were combined with more fun and frolic, Shriners International presently boasts approximately 340,000 members throughout the United States and its territories, Canada, Mexico, Panama, the Philippines, Europe and Australia. Shriners’ fun loving ways don’t preclude their strong commitment to service however: Shriners may be most famous for sponsoring a network of 22 pediatric hospitals in which children under the age of 18, with orthopedic conditions, burns, spinal cord injuries, or cleft lip and palate, are eligible for free services. The Shriners Hospital in St. Louis is a member of this network.
Like all Shriners hospitals, the St. Louis facility uses volunteer physicians as its attending staff. The core of their medical staff serves simultaneously on the faculty of the nearby Washington University in St. Louis School of Medicine. Additionally, the hospital provides training and medical education for scores of young physicians completing residencies and post-graduate fellowships there in orthopedic surgery. In August 2010, 15 physicians on staff at the Shriners Hospital For Children in St Louis led St. Louis magazine’s picks for the best doctors in the region.
The Shriners Hospital For Children in St Louis is also a well-respected research institute. In 2008, Dr. Matthew Dobbs, associate professor of orthopedic surgery at Washington University School of Medicine and clubfoot specialist at the St. Louis Shriners Hospital, became the first scientist to identify a genetic mutation critical to the development of lower limb abnormalities including clubfoot. The resulting study, entitled symmetric Lower-Limb Malformations in Individuals with Homeobox PITX1 Gene Mutation, appeared in the November 17, 2008 edition of the American Journal of Human Genetics.
How do Shriners Hospitals pay for the free services they provide and the research they sponsor? It has been an ongoing challenge. The hospital network has been running at a loss since 2001, losing an estimated one million dollars a day according to the CEO of the Shriners Hospitals For Children, Ralph Semb. The hospital system is not funded through member donations, but rather through an endowment fund that has been hit hard by the recent economic downturn, plummeting from eight to five billion dollars. Although the Shriners International members who sit on the hospital system’s governing system so far have voted against closing any of the network’s 22 hospitals, they may need to reconsider that decision in the not so distant future. They have voted to break with precedent and begin accepting insurance money for certain types of services.
Shriners Hospitals have also been placed at a considerable disadvantage by the health maintenance organization (HMO) model of healthcare in which participating physicians and facilities can only make patient referrals to other participating members of the HMO network. In this regard, the Shriners Hospital For Children in St Louis may well provide a blueprint for the future: because their physicians are on staff as well at other hospitals where they function as part of an HMO network, they can treat HMO referrals at the St. Louis Shriners Hospital as well. With strong ties to St Louis’ medical community and a new facility in the works, the future of the Shriners Hospital For Children in St Louis looks bright.