WILLMAR -- Changes are being proposed for the Cushman A. Rice Trust grant application process, making it easier for people to seek help paying their bills at Rice Memorial Hospital.
The trustees at Bremer Bank, which manages the fund, filed a court petition last month requesting a judge's approval for the revisions.
"We did this to streamline the process," Carol Hruby, vice president at Bremer Investment Management and Trust in Marshall, told the Rice Memorial Hospital Board's finance committee on Friday.
The proposed changes won't affect who's eligible for a grant. But they would simplify how the requests are evaluated, and speed up the decision-making, Hruby said.
One of the main changes, if a judge approves the revisions: The review process will no longer be outsourced. Instead, the hospital will take over the task of reviewing applications and determining who's eligible.
"It will coordinate better with the other kinds of grants the hospital has in place," Hruby said. "You can give people a yes or a no much faster. I think it will be a win-win."
The Rice Trust has close historic ties with Rice Memorial Hospital. It was created in 1932 by Cushman A. Rice, the son of one of Willmar's prominent early families, who left a bequest with the city of Willmar to establish Rice Memorial Hospital. Along with the money for a hospital, Rice set aside a fund intended to help pay for the care of needy patients at the hospital.
Nearly 80 years later, the Rice Trust continues to support charity care. If anything, the demand has grown. Hruby said grants totaling $44,837 were awarded last year to 111 qualifying individuals who had no other means of paying for their hospital care. So far this year, 31 people have received $15,970 in grants.
Requests for grants far outstrip the resources available, she said.
The trust's current value is $2.5 million.
The proposed changes in the application process are the latest revision submitted to the court on behalf of the Rice Trust. One of the most significant changes took place in 1993, when formal guidelines were established to determine eligibility for a Rice Trust grant. Applicants must now meet specific income and asset guidelines.
Hruby and Janet Vandendriessche, senior vice president of Bremer Investment Management and Trust, also brought the hospital board finance committee up to date Friday on the Rice Trust's tax code status.
Changes in the tax code in 2008 moved the Rice Trust into the private foundation category, a classification requiring the distribution of 5 percent of the market value each year. Fearing this would force the trust to spend down its principal and eventually run out of money, the Bremer trustees and Rice Hospital sought court approval to have the fund reclassified as a supporting charitable organization and to have the hospital board appoint two of its members as additional trustees.
Hruby said the IRS has issued a five-year advance ruling in favor of this move, effective Jan. 1, 2010. At the end of five years, the IRS will review the situation and make a final ruling.
The main test will be the degree of control Rice Hospital has over the Rice Trust, she said. "That will be a test that I think will be easy to pass."