Whenever I talk to people about Swedish, they are often surprised to learn we’re a nonprofit organization. Many people, even those who’ve lived here all their lives, just assume Swedish is a for-profit healthcare system. But the truth is Swedish was founded as a nonprofit institution 101 years ago, and we have remained true to those roots ever since.
The Puget Sound region is fortunate that most of the hospitals in our local area are either private nonprofits like Swedish, state or county hospitals like Harborview or public- district hospitals like Evergreen. The for-profits have not yet made significant inroads into our local community.
That’s not the case in other parts of the country. Of the 5,000 hospitals in the United States, about 18 percent, or 889 hospitals, are for-profit. And that number is growing. Most of these investor-owned hospitals are located in the South and Rocky Mountain region. Here in Washington, only six of the state’s 95 hospitals are for-profit.
The issue of nonprofit vs. for-profit is one I am very passionate about. I’m a big proponent for nonprofit health care and believe it plays a vital role in the fabric of society. That’s why I decided to focus this issue of Perspectives on what nonprofit health-care providers do for the community. I also wanted to use this as an opportunity to talk specifically about Swedish’s nonprofit mission and share some of the innovative new ways we are working to address the community’s health needs.
For-Profit vs. Nonprofit
What’s the difference between for-profit and nonprofit hospitals? One of the main differences is that for-profits are accountable to shareholders. Nonprofits are accountable to the community.
As a nonprofit, Swedish is not governed by investors. Our Board of Trustees is made up of volunteers from the community who work to make sure we’re: 1) meeting the health-care needs of the region; 2) delivering high-quality health care; and 3) managing our resources responsibly. Our board members take their role of preserving Swedish as a community asset very seriously and are focused on ensuring that Swedish is available as a resource for those in need for many years to come. In other words, they see to it that Swedish serves the interest of the public, not that of private investors. And it is worth noting that many members of our Board have made their own significant philanthropic investment in Swedish and thus our community’s health.
Nonprofit hospitals are tax-exempt organizations. We maintain this status by providing a number of services that benefit the community – charity care for the uninsured being one of the most vital. Tax-exempt hospitals in Washington state fill this critical need by providing a combined total of nearly $280 million in charity care per year. Washington hospitals also provide an additional $514 million in other services that benefit the community, including Medicaid subsidies, health-education programs, health-screening programs, support groups, medical education and clinical research.
Not being a public-district or government-owned hospital, Swedish does not raise revenue through tax levies. Instead we rely on the generous support of our community to help us invest in the health of our region. That support helps us to actively do our part to meet community needs and continuously look for ways to do even more.
In 2010, Swedish provided $112 million in services for the community, including:
- $25 million in charity care
- $67 million in Medicaid subsides
- $20 million in health education, screenings, clinical research and other community benefits
Innovative Ways Swedish Is Serving the Community