NICUs cost how many thousands per day? And parents need charities for parking?

Yeah, I know. The government is set to shut down on Tuesday—by non-coincidence the very day health insurance exchanges open for business for ObamaCare. And I’m about to talk about hospital parking?

Bear with me. This is actually an important issue: The incredible way our health system so terribly disserves families caring for loved-ones with serious illnesses.

Today’s Chicago Tribune includes a front-page feel-good story about a new charity’s efforts to making parking free for families with babies receiving neonatal intensive care. The Tribune story notes: “Foundation will cover garage or mass transit costs for parents of critically ill infants.” It begins with a poignant description:

Wide-eyed Brody Rubenstein, connected to tubes and swaddled in a striped hospital blanket, was born 19 days ago with a hole in his diaphragm and many of his tiny organs pushed upward into his chest.

His parents, Neil and Amy, have spent nearly every day at his side, and added to their many worries is this: the cost of parking their car across the street from Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago. They’ve already spent about $250.

But starting Monday, the cost of parking will no longer be a concern. The Rubensteins and other families with babies in the neonatal intensive care unit will be handed passes for parking or public transportation that will allow them to come and go for free.

The Jackson Chance Foundation is stepping in to help. This worthy organization has raised $200,000 to help NICU families with free parking and transit passes. It’s a terrific cause. Yet it’s revealing and pathetic that such efforts are even needed.

The average daily cost of NICU care in the United States exceeds $3,000. I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that Lurie Children’s hospital –one of the nation’s most prestigious—charges even more. The Tribune reports that the average length of stay in Lurie’s NICU is 27 days. So average expenditures are nearing $100,000. If these infants need MRI scans, intricate procedures and tests, they will get these costly services. NICUs are wonderful places. Showpieces of modern medicine, these are responsible for a marked reduction of infant mortality.

And herein lays the irony. Alongside these medical miracles, we struggle to find $20 per day so families going through incredible difficulties have a place to park. And that’s only parking.

I’ve worked with Ronald McDonald House, which happens to have outstanding facilities in Chicago serving Lurie Children’s, the University of Chicago, and other area hospitals. RMHC does a great service for families of critically-ill infants and children. These families often come a long way for specialty care. Families need a place to stay, somewhere to eat so they aren’t spending surprising amounts of money in the hospital cafeteria. They need a place for sanity and sleep when a child has cancer, cardiac problems, or other serious illnesses. RMHC facilities do a great job, though the need is greater than they can fully address.

Notice something else, too. Charities such as Jackson Chance Foundation and RMHC are worthy ventures for families of cute and cuddly kids. But what about the hundreds of thousands of adults with cancer or serious cardiac disease? What about their families?

As I’ve noted here, my father was recently sick with a scary cancer. We spent thousands of dollars on hotel rooms, food, laundry, transportation, and more, as we managed the logistics of being there as a family to help with his care. He got excellent and humane care, and these expenses were not a serious hardship for us. They certainly would have been for many other Americans.

Our health care system—particularly our leading academic medical centers—often do a great job providing expensive, high-tech medicine. These same institutions and the wider health care and social service system do a horrible job addressing the economic, logistical, and other life challenges that predictably confront patients and their families given the practical realities of serious illness. (I’m not even considering even more challenging situations, such as indigent patients with HIV or other ailments who require costly emergency department visits and costly nursing home services made worse by their lack of much-less-costly secure housing.)

I’m glad that families such as the Rubensteins can get free parking. It’s pathetic that they even need to ask. It’s a depressing commentary that this obvious bit of humanity merits a newspaper headline.

@haroldpollack

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