Charity care still priority, despite cuts to hospitals

| August 4, 2011 | 0 Comments

Thao Nguyen is comforted by her Minnesota mother, Patty DeVet, after surgery on her face. Photo by Dianne Towalski / The Catholic Spirit

A bruised but brave Thao Nguyen, 14, met with The Catholic Spirit less than 24 hours after Dr. Joseph Skow performed plastic surgery on her face at St. Joseph’s Hospital in St. Paul.

This was not the first or last surgery for Nguyen, who arrived in the United States from northern Vietnam five years ago to receive medical care for severe burns to her hands and face, said her Minnesota mom, Patty DeVet.

She has been living in Prior Lake almost three years with Patty and Chuck DeVet, who established a nonprofit organization with their daughter Annetta in 2001 in Hanoi called Humanitarian Services for Children of Vietnam (www.hscv.org).

The DeVets and HSCV arranged for Nguyen to get a medical visa and care at Shriner’s Hospital in California and then Minnesota.

Without the donated services and funding from Dr. Skow, St. Joseph’s Hospital, Shriner’s, HSCV and the DeVets, Nguyen would not be getting the care she desperately needs.

She was nearly 5 years old when a boy in her village knocked her unconscious, threw her in a hay pile and set it on fire, Patty DeVet said. Nguyen’s mother took her by bus to the hospital in Hanoi, which had done all it could for her.

Thanks to the generosity of many, Nguyen is further along in her recovery and looking forward to the August wedding of one of her Minnesota sisters.

“She is now No. 6 in our family of children,” DeVet said. Nguyen attends St. Michael School in Prior Lake thanks to a family that sponsors her tuition there. She also helped with the cost by winning a $50 scholarship in a poster contest discouraging drug use that was sponsored by the Knights of Columbus, last year.

“Thao won first place,” DeVet said. “This child does not have fingers; they were burned off. She is a wonderful artist and she makes due. Any limitation she has you would never know it unless you met her.”

Helping when it can

Sara Criger, vice president and CEO of St. Joseph’s Hospital, said the hospital tries to work with patients of physicians like Skow, who practices there.

“It’s at the spirit of our mission and it’s at the spirit of what the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet [who founded the hospital] were about,” Criger said. “Unfortunately, the need is greater than the ability to do it.”

The majority of charity care goes toward providing routine services for local community members, Criger said. Providing care to people in need, however, is becoming more challenging with cuts to Medicaid.

“We were relieved that some of the Medicaid was preserved [in the state budget] for people in our community who are uninsured,” Criger said.

Bad economic model

When people don’t have insurance they don’t get the basics that keep them healthy and they end up in the emergency rooms of hospitals, which is a bad economic model, Criger added.

“The flip side is there were more dramatic cuts made [by the state Legislature] to what the providers will be reimbursed,” Criger said. “We believe we are getting paid at a rate by Medicaid that’s almost 26 percent below 2002 costs.”

The hospital expects charity care costs to increase in 2011 by 5.8 percent, from last year’s total of $2.78 million.

Medicaid and Medicare are two items that continue to be put on the state and federal chopping block, said Toby Pearson, executive director of the Catholic Hospital Association of Minnesota.

One priority for the association during the recent state budget discussions was that Medicaid, a federal-state program, would continue to be available to people who need the coverage, he said.

“We’re glad that at the end of the session it remained in there,” he said. “The challenge we’ve had in Catholic hospitals and clinics is we’re facing an increasing number of people who are having to rely on these state programs — partially because of economic situations and the number of job losses. But, we also see declining reimbursements.”

An additional challenge to Catholic hospitals in the final state budget is a large reduction to medical education funding.

“In the short term it hurts because it’s a direct hit to your bottom line, because you are still going to be providing a certain amount of medical education,” Pearson said. “In the long term, it makes it harder to recruit and retain talent because you are decreasing your pool of doctors.”

Criger said that St. Joseph’s family medicine residency program will be hit hard by the cuts.

“We believe that family medicine physicians are key to the future when you look at health care reform,” she said. “[Cuts] could put our future access to physicians at risk.”

Despite the funding cuts, Catholic hospitals continue to do a lot of charitable work, Pearson said.

“We’re consistently among the top providers in the state when it comes to the charitable component,” he said of Catholic facilities.

Thao Nguyen and many patients who have little or no insurance could tell you more about the level of care at Catholic hospitals.

“The fact is, we pride ourselves on being a Catholic hospital that’s available to everybody, that is based in providing care for the needy,” Criger said.

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Category: Local News