Shriners say they won't close facilities

If you're lucky, you've gotten to see members of the Ancient Arabic Order of the Nobles of the Mystic Shrine show up in their finery. The Shriners, as members are known, often send dozens of men out in rainbow-colored, bejeweled faux-Arab garb to march down America's main streets in local parades.

While the parade appearances may be silly, the Tampa, FL-based Shriners actually have a very serious purpose. Since 1927, the group's hospitals have provided free care to children with burns, orthopedic and spinal cord injuries and cleft lips, and today, the group runs 20 facilities in the U.S. as well as locations in Montreal and Mexico City. Unfortunately, though, that mission may be in trouble.

Right now, the group is facing the same economic stresses as other healthcare providers, and with its endowment shrinking, the Shriners' corporate board has recommended that it close six of its hospitals--a sad sign of the times. However, it looks like for the time being, the Shriners have rejected the idea more or less out of hand.

What they may do, members say, is begin billing insurance companies for patients that have coverage. Still, the group still plans to offer free care to all children needing its services, and does not plan to bill parents directly even if they're insured.

To learn more about the Shriners' hard times:
- read this Pittsburgh Post-Gazette piece