Shriners May Close Some Children's Hospitals

Monday, April 20th 2009, 5:28 pm
By: News On 6

By Craig Day, The News On 6

UNDATED -- The ailing economy could mean several Shriners Hospitals that provide free medical care for children may have to close their doors.  That includes the Shriner Hospital in Shreveport, LA, which is the one most children from Oklahoma go to.

You don't notice it now, but Tristin Riley was born with a severe orthopedic disability.

"His feet were almost completely upside down and backwards," said Tristin's mom, Stacey Elam.

Some doctors recommended amputating both of his feet, but doctors at the Shriners Children's Hospital in Shreveport thought otherwise.

After surgery at 10 months old, and dozens of visits to the hospital, Tristin is a success story.

"Walks, runs, loves to skateboard and jump on the trampoline and nothing holds him back," said Tristin's mom, Stacey Elam.

But now, the Shreveport Shriners' facility and five others nationwide may be closed.  It's a combination of fewer donations, increasing costs, and an endowment that has dropped $3 billion because of the poor economy.   

All of Shriners Hospitals are funded from the interest off that endowment.

"It would just make me really sad, cause I've been there since, I've been going there for like seven years," said Tristin's mom, Stacey Elam.

"Last year, the Shriners Hospital in Shreveport treated 950 patients from Oklahoma.  After Louisiana, the Shreveport facility sees more patients from Oklahoma than any other state.  If it closes, children in need would still be helped, just at other Shriner hospitals.

"We're ready, and willing to do whatever we have to to take care of these children," said Jim Mullings with Adkar Shrine.

Tristin's mom says it would be hard to say goodbye to a facility that has become such a huge part of her son's life.  But, she's optimistic Shriners will make good choices for the future.

"Their organization really runs like a fine tuned engine and they prepare for anything," said Tristin's mom, Stacey Elam.

"Look for us when we're out raising money, if you see us step up and help us out," said Jim Mullings with Adkar Shrine.

The chairman of the Shriner Board of Trustees told The News On 6 that cuts will have to be made to prevent Shriners from running out of money to operate all of its hospitals which he says could happen in seven years. 

A decision on closing the six hospitals is expected in July.