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Northwest Voices

Seattle Times letters to the editor

March 10, 2009 at 4:00 PM

Health care

Low percentages does not equal low-bar charity care

The Times’ article “Report: Health-care disparities shortchange minorities, poor” [Local News, March 4] may have had good intentions, but it misrepresented Virginia Mason’s work to care for our community’s underserved.

Virginia Mason (VM) is an integrated medical center with a downtown hospital and clinic, as well as regional clinics. When looking at charity care as a percentage of gross revenue, the total revenue included in this calculation matters.

At VM, unlike others, our gross revenue includes physician-clinic revenue, so comparisons with “hospital-only” systems are not “apples to apples.”

When comparing Medicaid revenue as a percentage of gross revenue, readers should understand we do not provide pediatric-inpatient care, nor do we deliver babies — two service areas with significant Medicaid use.

Clearly, our percentages will be lower.

Virginia Mason’s community-benefit activities stretch well beyond the charity-care numbers reported. Among our subsidized health services we operate the Bailey-Boushay House, a nursing residence and outpatient center for people with HIV/AIDS and other life-threatening illnesses.

This nationally recognized facility has a 16-year history of offering residential and outpatient programs for the very people we were criticized for underserving. Many clients suffer from substance abuse, psychiatric illnesses and homelessness, and nearly half of those served in 2008 were people of color.

I’m proud of the work we do at Virginia Mason in service to our community, and I strongly encourage people to visit our Web site, www.virginiaMason.org/communitybenefit, to read the full story.

— Suzanne Anderson, Virginia Mason Medical Center senior vice president, Seattle

Stopping to smell the stench in the stampede toward National health care

The first job I had after graduating high school was as a delivery man for the largest florist in Houston.

My duties included traveling to private residences, businesses, funeral homes and hospitals; Houston has one of the largest, most advanced medical complexes in the world. Most of the hospitals were a pleasure to deliver to, as they allowed access to the nurse’s station, and I always enjoyed the labor-and-delivery floor, looking through the glass at newborns.

The worst place to go, even worse than funeral homes, was the Veteran’s Administration Hospital. They made me go to the patients’ room — there were four or more patients per ward — and there was always the stench of urine and someone moaning loudly or calling out for assistance. It did not matter what floor to which I was directed. I doubt things have changed much in the interim.

It seems to me that in our stampede toward national health care, we should all visit our local VA hospital and speak with a few of the registered patients there to find out how much they like the original form of United States “free” health care.

Maybe a trip to a nursing home funded by Medicare or Medicaid would also make a nice side trip.

Margaret Thatcher once said, “The only problem with socialism is that eventually, you always run out of someone else’s money.”

I say: Where there is no competition, there is no excellence.

— Konrad Lau, Sedro-Woolley

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