When donating to your favorite charities (or candidates), do you usually allow your donations to become acknowledged publicly or do you prefer to give anonymously? Perhaps your answer depends on the specific charity or candidate, or maybe it depends on how much you are donating. By the way, there really is no right or wrong answer to this question. However, you may change your views after reading this post.
What would you think if your donation history to various charitable causes may determine whether or not you will be ‘targeted’ by your local nonprofit hospital to become a donor to their organization?
Nonprofit Hospital Fundraising
Research shows that this happens relatively frequently. In fact, you may even be a patient at the time you are ‘solicited.’ Through highly-defined prospect research results on your past-giving behaviors, you may qualify to receive a visit by a hospital administrator or someone representing the philanthropic arm of the hospital. The donations sought are to supplement income streams hospitals have from other sources, such as private and public insurance payers and money raised through more traditional (and transparent) methods, such as charity golf tournaments, galas, etc.
This issue caught my attention recently after reading a Kaiser Health News article. According to the article, ‘many’ nonprofit hospitals across the U.S. conduct “nightly wealth screenings” of their patients. They use software “that culls public data such as public records, contributions to political campaigns and other charities – to gauge which patients are most likely to be the source of large donations.” According to this article, these programs “are becoming commonplace, particularly among the largest nonprofit hospitals.” This practice is also known as ‘Grateful Patient Programs.’
If Solicited as a Patient, It’s Legal
Protected health information (PHI), which is part of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, is usually a good thing for patients. In fact, PHI was designed to be given only to authorized individuals and organizations. Yet, since 2013, certain healthcare providers are allowed greater flexibility to use PHI for fundraising purposes, such as the nature of the services a patient received or the identity of his or her physician. According to The Giving Institute, healthcare organizations may use the following patient’s PHI without having their authorization for fundraising purposes:
- Patient demographic data (name, address, phone/email, date of birth, age, gender, etc.)
- Health insurance status
- Dates of patient services
- General type of department in which a patient is serviced
- Treating physician information
- Outcome information
- Nature of services
Major Des Moines Medical Centers?
This rather opaque process of soliciting qualified patients for donations prompted me to contact the media relations departments of Des Moines’ two largest hospital systems: Mercy Medical Center (now MercyOne) and UnityPoint Health Des Moines. As of this post’s publication, neither organization has responded to my emails to confirm whether or not they have such a program in place.
Hospitals are granted a tool that allows them to legally solicit donations from patients and family members, especially when they are held ‘captive’ within their facilities due to medical purposes. The Kaiser article does raise a question that many of us may ponder: Will care be affected depending on whether a large donation is possible or not? In other words, could we potentially have a two-tier care system, one for the wealthy and one for everyone else?
This fundraising approach does allow one to reason that perhaps more of our future personal donations should be made anonymously.
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