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Demand for Rice trust fund grants still strong

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WILLMAR — The need for Rice trust funds to help pay the bill for needy patients at Rice Memorial Hospital continues to outpace the money available.

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According to an annual report presented this month to the hospital board’s finance committee, the Rice trust awarded $53,000 in grants last year that benefited 181 patients who could not otherwise have paid for their care.

But for every grant that’s given, there are many more people turned away for lack of enough Rice trust money to meet the demand.

“You have plenty of people who need this,” said Carol Hruby, vice president of Bremer Investment Management and Trust, which manages the Rice trust.

More than 80 years after the trust was established by Cushman Rice, the fund remains virtually one of a kind among Minnesota hospitals.

“It’s an important resource to us,” said Bill Fenske, chief financial officer at Rice Hospital. “It provides a significant amount of money that helps support uncompensated care.”

He added, “We’re very lucky to have it.”

The Rice trust is rooted in the history of Rice Memorial Hospital. Created in 1932, it was the legacy of Cushman Rice, son of one of the city’s prominent early families and a wealthy soldier of fortune who, according to one scholarly theory, was the inspiration for F. Scott Fitzgerald’s title character in “The Great Gatsby.”

Patients who receive Rice trust grants tend to be those who fall between the cracks — not poor enough to qualify for Medical Assistance but not well-off enough to afford large out-of-pocket costs for hospital care.

“There are very specific criteria for eligibility,” Fenske said. These include income, assets and household size, he said.

In recent years, Rice has developed additional financial assistance programs that expand charity care options beyond the Rice trust fund.

There’s a matching grant program, for instance, for eligible patients. The hospital gives a discount to uninsured patients and to patients who pay their out-of-pocket share of the bill promptly. And for those who receive a Rice trust grant, the remaining portion of the bill is written off.

“All of those work together,” Fenske said. “We try to spread this across as many people as we can.”

The benefit to Rice Hospital is a reduction in the amount of bad debt that might end up in collections, he said. Bad debt at Rice accounts for approximately 2 percent of patient revenue, compared to an industry benchmark of 7.4 percent.

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Anne Polta

Anne Polta covers health care, business/economic development and general assignment. Her HealthBeat blog can be found at http://healthbeat.areavoices.com. Follow her on Twitter at @AnnePolta.

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