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Rice trust fund issued $88,000 in grants last year for more than 100 individual applicants

WILLMAR -- The need for Rice trust fund grants to help eligible patients pay their hospital bills continues to outstrip the amount of money available.

Last year the 78-year-old fund issued $88,000 worth of grants on behalf of 106 individual applicants. So far during 2010, the Rice trust fund has paid $23,000 in grants that benefited 57 patients.

"We have applicants far exceeding the level of money we can give right now," said Carol Hruby, vice president of Bremer Investment Management and Trust, which oversees the Cushman A. Rice trust for the city of Willmar and Rice Memorial Hospital.

Bremer officials met Friday with the Rice Hospital Board finance committee to review the annual Rice trust fund report.

It's unlikely that Cushman Rice, a career soldier and globetrotting traveler whose family money helped endow the construction of Rice Memorial Hospital in the 1930s, could have envisioned how the trust fund -- or the need for it -- would grow. The trust was created in 1932 after Rice died. The terms of his will stipulated that the interest from the trust's bond investments be used "to help pay for operations and hospital attendance for poor and needy persons at the Rice Memorial Hospital."

There's now a formal application process and income guidelines to determine who is eligible to be considered for a grant.

As of April 30, the fund had grown to a market value of $2.4 million. Its holdings include mineral rights on land in Minnesota and North Dakota that once belonged to the Rice family.

A conservative approach to investing helped preserve the fund and blunt the effect of ups and downs in the financial markets this past year, said Jim McCourtney, senior portfolio manager with Bremer.

"We continue to work the portfolio every day," he said.

Rice Hospital and Bremer are still waiting for a ruling from the Internal Revenue Service to reclassify the trust as a charitable organization.

A change in the tax code caused the trust fund to be categorized as a private foundation at the beginning of 2008, a move that required it to pay a tax on its investment earnings and distribute 5 percent of its market value each year in grants. Fearing this would erode the bulk of the trust over time, Bremer and Rice petitioned the court last year to make some changes to its structure, allowing it to return to its former status.

Hruby said the request to the IRS is still "in limbo" but told finance committee members it will likely be accepted.

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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