by Christopher Hodapp
Shriners Children officially announced the closing of the Shriners Hospital in Tampa, Florida last week. Shriners has operated its Tampa hospital on the campus of the University of South Florida since opening in 1985, and in fact, the headquarters of both Shriners International (the fraternal origination) and its non-profit, recently-renamed medical philanthropy, Shriners Children, are located in Tampa. Unfortunately, stories in the Tampa Bay News caused lots of heated accusations in its wake from the rank and file Nobles on social media.
Since first opening, the Tampa hospital has treated more than 50,000 children. The original 60-bed, acute care, inpatient hospital at that location was already transformed into an outpatient clinic back in 2019, with fewer than 100 employees. The facility has been treating children with scoliosis, muscular dystrophy and brittle bone disease (osteogenesis imperfecta). It also provides radiology and pediatric rehabilitation services, along with braces, artificial limbs and corrective orthopedic shoe inserts. But in the almost 40 years that the Tampa location has been open, the medical universe has undergone enormous evolution.
A wide variety of forces contributed to that change, including: a shrinking domestic birth rate; the major reduction of birth defects in recent decades; advances in technology and care procedures that no longer demand expensive, overnight (or longer) stays; and the dramatic increase in the cost of staffing and maintaining a full-service, full-size hospital with little-used facilities. And don't forget the massive intrusion of government in the wake of the Affordable Care Act that redefined what a "hospital" can and cannot do without running afoul of Medicaid and various insurance regulations. Before 2011, Shriners prided itself in providing care to children at no cost, often saying, "Our hospitals have everything other hospitals have, except a billing office." The ACA changed all of that and ultimately forced them to accept insurance payments and the regulatory nightmares that went with it. However, they still treat uninsured patients free of charge.
In April, Shriners will announce a new partnership with local providers in the Tampa area that will permit their pediatric and orthopedic specialists to treat more patients at more locations, and perform many in-home services. Tampa is not alone. It is actually one of five locations in the Shriners system transforming from hospitals into out-patient service providers. Complex cases requiring surgeries and longer-term, inpatient treatment will be transported to the Shriners acute-care hospitals in Shreveport, Louisiana or Greenville, South Carolina. In addition to orthopedic cases, Shriners continue to provide world-renowned care for children with severe burns, clubbed feet and other debilitating injuries throughout their 23 North American locations.
The Shrine opened its first children's hospital a century ago in 1922, and has served more than 1.5 million patients since then. Shriners Hospitals for Children are supported by individual donations from the public, but primarily by the members of Shriners International, a Masonic fraternity open to men with nearly 200 chapters in the U.S. and other countries. Most Americans are unaware that in order to be a Shriner, a man must first become a Freemason and join a local Masonic lodge.