My GI Doc’s Hand is Out

Now that we have all given thanks, and now that the day of mob shopping is thankfully behind us, now begins the season of giving.  I mean, charitable giving.  Many of us are thinking about which organizations and causes we want to support financially and about writing those checks before the end of the year.

So it is not surprising at all that every day’s mail brings more and more solicitations to my home and to my office from innumerable worthy causes, including groups working to provide family and children’s services and legal services and women’s health care to underserved communities, to protect the environment, to feed the hungry, and on and on.

What was surprising was getting a fundraising solicitation from my gastroenterologist.

That’s right, the physician who performed a colonoscopy on me last year now wants me to donate to the Division of Gastroenterology and Hepatology at Thomas Jefferson University.

Now, the Jefferson GI Department does have some fine doctors, I’ll readily agree.  And they do some fine doctoring and also some good research into new treatments for GI diseases such as celiac disease and Barrett’s Esophagus, according to the solicitation.

But does Jefferson really need fundraising dollars from its patients?  Of all the worthy organizations and non-profit causes out there, would I really choose to send my philanthropic dollars to Jefferson rather than, say, to a group fighting hunger or helping the families of military veterans or providing health services to underserved women or cleaning up polluted streams or helping out the still-struggling victims of Hurricane Sandy?

The short answer, as may now be quite clear, is no.  But the reason is because Jefferson is rich.  I just don’t believe that they need my money.

I checked on-line and was able to download Jefferson’s 2010 tax returns, which are publicly available because Jefferson is a tax-exempt organization under federal tax law.  According to its filings, in 2010 Jefferson brought in more than $1.4 billion in revenue from program services, mainly from patient care.  After deducting all expenses, including $585 million in salaries, Jefferson still had an excess of $61 million, none of which is taxable.

The IRS returns for Jefferson offer a wealth of information about the business of one of Philadelphia’s largest hospitals, including the fact that its President and CEO Thomas J. Lewis III was paid $1.114 million, plus another $137K in estimated “other compensation.”  Numerous other administrators at Jeff were paid handsome mid-six figure salaries.

Jefferson has so much money, in fact, according to its 2010 tax filing, that it spent more than $685K on lobbying.  Lobbying?  Jefferson is so concerned about medical research and improving quality of patient care that it spent almost a million bucks on paid lobbyists?

Moreover, Jefferson already rakes in millions upon millions for research projects, new buildings, and endowed faculty chairs.  According to the Thomas Jefferson University website, since 2004 the Jefferson Foundation has raised more than $270 million.

In short, Jefferson raises millions of dollars every year – over and above the hundreds of millions in revenue the hospital brings in every year – from alumni of its medical college, from corporate sponsors, from foundations, from pharmaceutical and medical device company-sponsored partnerships and from government research grants.

Given all that, does Jefferson really need to hit up its patients, too?

Now, I am not knocking major hospitals paying big salaries to their CEOs.  Or owning half a billion dollars in prime Center City Philadelphia real estate.  (That’s also from Jefferson’s tax filing.)  Of course, hospitals need to bring in major dollars to fund cutting edge research.

Maybe there was a time when giving to the local hospital, with its overworked and underpaid doctors and nurses, had some appeal.  The idea that a major hospital today is a “charitable” institution seems completely contrary to what we know is the big business of today’s health care mega-business.

I believe we should all do what we can to give back, to help others in need, that we should play a part in strengthening social institutions in our community, each of us as we are able.  I believe in the concept of tikkun olam, the core Jewish value that means “repair the world.”

I also believe that I already gave to Jefferson when I paid for my colonoscopy.  (And did I ever pay!)

Maybe the folks in Jefferson’s development office figure they will get a certain number of patients to give no matter what and that justifies the cost of the mailing, so, on balance, what the heck?

We live in the time when so many are feeling strapped financially.  Moreover, thousands of individuals filing for personal bankruptcy do so because they can’t pay their medical bills.  Soliciting patients for donations particularly in these times, and especially when so many worthwhile and important non-profit groups are struggling for dollars, just seems crass.

Of course, if Jefferson has no problem with its seasonal fundraising campaign, then why shouldn’t a humble trial lawyer with college tuition on the horizon do the same?