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Report: Rice Hospital in Willmar, Minn., provided $20.7M in community benefits last year

WILLMAR -- Rice Memorial Hospital provided $20.7 million in community benefits last year, from support groups and health fairs to outreach services, health education and charity care.

The amount represents 19 percent of the hospital's overall operating expenses in 2011, Rice officials said in a report given to the hospital board at its meeting Wednesday night.

The report is compiled each year to assess what Rice Hospital is doing to recognize and respond to community needs.

"We are always looking for better ways to provide for our community," said Jackie Hinderks, the hospital's director of revenue and reimbursement. "These are services that would not otherwise be provided."

What qualifies as a community benefit? Typically, these are programs and activities that respond to public health needs and needs within low-income and underserved populations. A community benefit also might support education or research that advances community health.

For example: Canine Care for the Journey, which uses trained volunteers and registered therapy dogs to spend time with Rice Hospice patients and families. The dogs and their handlers volunteered 307 hours last year, making 347 free visits to 71 hospice patients.

"I've heard great stories on how everybody appreciates it," Hinderks said.

The hospital also lists financial costs among the community benefits it provided last year. These include $1.5 million in charity care, nearly $1 million in discounts offered to patients who were uninsured, and $2 million worth of care for which the hospital was never paid.

The amount of charity care is rising slowly but steadily, Hinderks said. "I think we've done a much better job of identifying patients these past few years that quality for charity care."

Also considered a community benefit were the $949,000 in MinnesotaCare taxes that Rice Hospital paid last year and a $316,000 payment to the city of Willmar in lieu of property taxes.

But the highest amount by far was $8.3 million in Medicare costs in excess of payment, followed by $3.6 million in Medicaid costs in excess of payment.

Data was reported to the Minnesota Hospital Association from 130 Minnesota hospitals on the value of the community benefits they provided in 2010, the most recent year for which statewide numbers were available. Collectively, the total was $2.28 billion. The amount has been slowly rising each year.

Bill Fenske, chief financial officer for Rice, said accountability has become increasingly important for nonprofit hospitals. "We need to show we're providing a tangible benefit," he said.

Nonprofit hospitals that fail to adequately demonstrate this might have their tax-exempt status put under scrutiny or, in some cases, revoked outright.

Anne Polta

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

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