Private Donations: Such an odd thing to say

It was such an odd thing to say.

October 5th the two artists known as the Department of Public Memory held a memorial to Perram House, an eight-bed hospice that closed earlier this year (video to come).

One of the speakers at the event, a former employee, suggested that Perram House couldn’t work and that the end was as inevitable as it was for the palliative patients who spent their final days there.

Her argument suggested that the hospice had to be better integrated with other health services to succeed. Fair enough.

Surprisingly, rather than argue for more public funding, she suggested that hospices like Perram House wouldn’t be regarded as belonging to the community if these services were not partially funded through private donation. Say what?

She quickly cautioned that 50 per cent donation would be too much to handle. Perram House wasn’t nearly as dependent on private contributions. In fact, about 80 per cent of funding for Perram House was already public. It was the remaining 20 per cent that the board felt itself unable to raise.

It’s an odd notion that something cannot be regarded by the community as belonging to them without the intermediary of private donation.

In this case workers told us that mostly friends and business associates of the board chair attended the fundraisers. That makes it community-based? Do rich people have to shell out before something belongs to a community?

It’s probably indicative of how far gone we are as a society where otherwise sensible and sensitive people confuse private with public in this way.

The Canadian Military does not privately fundraise for its helicopters and ships, yet does anyone not see them as belonging to Canadians as a result?

Would we feel greater ownership of our local public school if McDonald’s contributed some sponsorship money for it? Would our kids be better off skipping under the yellow arches before heading into class?

Would we feel a greater ownership of our public hospitals if the boards were run by executives of private corporations? We don’t, although in truth it already does happen.

Dr. Yoni Freedhoff points out examples where private sponsorship conflicts with public imperatives around public health initiatives. It’s the children’s hospital that rewards fundraising with a private company’s pizza coupons. Or as the CMAJ recently pointed out, the children’s hospital that runs lotteries encouraging ordinary people to gamble $900 in the hopes of winning big.

Every time we walk by the Rogers Centre we think about the fact that Rogers Corporation paid $25 million for a building that originally cost three levels of government $570 million to build. The majority of money put into that project was public, but now the one-time money-losing stadium is private.

Would a community fail to embrace a series of hospices if they were integrated and fully funded by government?

We would suggest it’s the care that matters. The private sector already demonstrated that it couldn’t manage the 20 per cent needed to keep Perram House going. Should we plan health services based on the private sector’s willingness to contribute, or should we plan health services, including hospice care, based on what’s needed?

We for one, would embrace it with or without private donation.

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