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Jun 2017

Hospitals Turning to Internet Fundraising When Capital Falls Short

Perhaps the heyday of televised telethons to raise money was during the 1970’s. Today, that old-fashion revenue generator is largely the sole domain of PBS’s fund drives. In the 21st century, raising capital is done online via Crowdfunding with Kickstarter and, which are among the most popular platforms. With hospital budget belts tightening even another notch, the healthcare world is turning to the modern fundraising ways. But will it work?

Just last month, a rural, critical-access hospital in Copperhill, Tennessee halted all inpatient care, fired at least 15 nurses and activated a GoFundMe page in hopes to raise $100,000.

To date, the nonprofit, 21-bed hospital has received donations from 73 people in 25 days, totaling $5,479. Along with gifts ranging from $25 to $100, donors shared messages of support: “Let’s save our hospital!!” “Please donate to this important cause!!”

With just a couple weeks to go, the drive to $100,000 appears to be stalling.

“The next 45 days will be our most critical period for survival of Copper Basin Medical Center,” wrote CFO Tim Henry, on the GoFundMe page. “We have endured needed staff reductions and are critically short on supplies.”

Crowdfunding is not an entirely new idea in healthcare. On July 20, 2013, a team of Stanford University alums inaugurated a crowdfunded hospital project serving an Indian community of 100,000 people. The difference is Hospital for Hope in India created its own website to raise money to build a new facility, not to prevent its doors from shutting for good.

But the fundraising campaign is not always a smooth ride. The Copper Basin drive exposed rifts in the rural Tennessee County. Some hospital employees openly urged people not to donate, pointing out that the hospital terminated workers with just three days notice. Registered Nurse Robert Pinion posted on Facebook, [the] “once thriving facility that boasts some of the best, most caring employees…” [had been] “mismanaged into oblivion.”

Tracy Rhodes Robinson, a registered nurse who was among those laid off this month, told STATNEWS.COM she was angry at the hospital’s treatment of employees. Their health insurance was eliminated, and some employees were still owed paychecks. A few former employees aren’t sure if they will ever receive them.

“The town needs the hospital,” Robinson said. “I have already found another job — but I’m hopeful my old job opens back up.”

Copper Basin Medical Center, the only critical access hospital in Polk County, faces the same strains as many other small, isolated hospitals in the United States. A third of rural hospitals in this country are currently operating at a loss. Additionally, more than 75 rural facilities have closed since 2010.

Henry told the Times Free Press he and his colleagues hope to secure enough funding to reopen inpatient services by October, when the next fiscal year begins. Outpatient services are still available at the hospital.

As if the Crowdfunding campaign was not enough, The Times Free Press newspaper reported Copper Basin Medical Center offered patients with past-due accounts a “two-for-one special.” Sort of a post “Buy One, Get One Free” deal. According to the hospital’s May 10, 2017 letters, past Copper Basin patients could earn a credit that matches the amount paid toward their overdue bills.

“Please take advantage of this opportunity to significantly reduce your hospital account balance and provide much needed help to Copper Basin Medical Center,” the letter stated.

The early Copper Basin returns appear to show crowdfunding may have limitations in healthcare for existing facilities. However, many crowdfunding veterans know first time ventures often struggle, and press and social media publicity are necessary ingredients for success.

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