Nonprofits turn attention to community outreach

Hospitals must expand their focus beyond the amount of free care they provide, especially as critics continue to question whether nonprofits deserve their tax-exempt status.

Instead, overall investment in the community should be the most important figure included in community benefits reports, according to Becker's Hospital Review. "Community benefit is not just measured in dollars of charity care," said Aaron Crane, chief financial officer of nonprofit Salem (Ore.) Health.

Hospitals should highlight their coverage for Medicare and Medicaid shortfalls from, subsidized healthcare services, medical research and wellness initiatives and post such benefits online, the article noted.

For instance, the value of charity care, outreach programs and other community benefits provided by four major nonprofit health systems in Ohio increased to almost $850 million in 2011, The Plain Dealer reported.

At University Hospitals, charity care rose 34 percent to $47.1 million last year. The boost in free care suggests the local economy still hasn't bounced back for patients seeking services at no charge.

Meanwhile, the Cleveland Clinic's spending on charity care fell to $145.6 million in 2011, thanks in part to closing the doors to Huron Hospital, the article noted.

While its charity care dropped, Cleveland Clinic increased its spending on community outreach programs 4.6 percent to $45.6 million in 2011. Through those funds, the system provided free health screenings and promoted healthy school lunches, among other benefits to local residents.

To learn more:
- here's the Plain Dealer article
- read the Becker's article