By Tim Leeds
While there is no Shriners Hospital in Havre, the North Central Montana Shrine Club (NCMSC) is heavily involved in providing free hospital care to children in the area.
From Oct. 15 of 1995 to June 8 of 1999, the club wrote 93 checks totaling more than $14,000 to provide transportation costs for children to the hospitals.
"I've sponsored some kids and it's a real delight," said Havre Shrine member Noel Davidson.
The Shrine of North America and Shriners Hospitals have been providing free care to children for 88 years. The first hospital was opened in Shreveport, La. in 1922.
There are currently 18 orthopedic Shriners Hospitals, three burn centers and a hospital in Sacramento, Calif., that provides orthopedic, burn and spinal cord injury care.
Davidson said the Spokane unit is the first destination of the kids the Havre Shriners sponsor. In 1999, the Spokane unit conducted 8,089 total clinic visits. It admitted 680 patients and performed 582 surgeries. Treatments are free, and care is extended to children under the age of 18.
He said the Shrine also offers screening clinics in Great Falls. He said it's cheaper to bring a doctor to the area to find out who needs care and how much they need than to ship a bunch of kids out to Spokane.
The average hospital stay was six months 75 years ago. Today, thanks to improved technology, the average length of patient stay has been reduced to six days. This makes room for more patient care.
The major funding for the hospitals comes from endowments, Davidson said. He said there is a substantial endowment, but it is not enough to fully fund the hospitals. Money for the hospitals also comes from gifts, bequests, hospital fund-raising events such as the Shrine Circus, and the annual hospital assessment paid by every Shriner.
NCMSC's main fund-raiser for the hospitals is the circus held in the summer, Davidson said, but there are other fraternal fund-raisers held in the area as well. The Sweet Vidalia Onion Sale is currently underway, with the produce arriving in early May.
Vidalia onions are grown in about seven counties in Georgia and have a short shelf life. They are extremely sweet in their prime, about May 1. For the past several years the Algerian Temple in Helena, which the Havre club is a part of, has sponsored a sale of the onions. About 40,000 pounds are distributed among the clubs, with Havre's share about 5,000 pounds. Shrine members sell among personal acquaintances, utilize radio and newspaper advertisements and take orders for onions, which are distributed upon their arrival.
The Havre club also holds a fall beef raffle, which will be held during Festival Days.
Davidson said that the purchase of tickets for the Shrine Circus is tax-deductible, but since the onion sale and the beef raffle are fraternal fund-raisers and the customer receives an item for their purchase, they are not tax-deductible.
Shrine hospitals represent the greatest private philanthropy in the world, Davidson said.
As of 1999, the annual budget of the hospitals was $490 million, with $419 million for the operating expenses, $22 million for research, and $71 million for capital expenditures. Cumulatively, about $4.15 billion had been spent on operating costs and $892 million on construction and renovations.
Davidson said the main function of the local club is care for children, but there are a lot of duties that go with the Shrine including maintenance of the temple and many other commitments.
"Very few people are involved heavily enough," he said. "I'm just a member of the club."