St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital promises not to bill families. But the cost of having a child at the hospital for cancer care leaves some families so strapped for money that parents share tips on spending nights in the parking lot.
This article was published on Friday, November 12, 2021 in ProPublica.
By David Armstrong and Ryan Gabrielson
A series of sharp knocks on his driver’s side window startled Jason Burt awake.
It was the middle of the night on a Saturday in 2016. Burt was sleeping in his pickup truck in the parking lot of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in downtown Memphis, Tennessee, where his 5-year-old daughter was being treated for brain cancer. He’d driven more than 500 miles from his home in Central Texas to visit her.
A St. Jude security guard peered into the truck and asked Burt what he was doing. Burt explained that his daughter and her mother, his ex-girlfriend, were staying in the hospital’s free patient housing. But St. Jude provides housing for only one parent. Burt, a school bus driver making $20,000 a year, told the guard he couldn’t afford a hotel. The guard let the exhausted father go back to sleep.
St. Jude would do no more to find him a place to stay.
“They were aware of the situation,” Burt said. “I didn’t push anything. I was just grateful she was getting treated and I was doing what I needed to do.”
St. Jude is the largest and most highly regarded healthcare charity in the country. Each year, the Memphis hospital’s fundraisers send out hundreds of millions of letters, many with heart-wrenching photographs of children left bald from battling cancer. Celebrities like Jennifer Aniston and Sofia Vergara sing the hospital’s praises in televised advertisements. This year, St. Jude’s fundraising reached outer space. The SpaceX Inspiration4 mission in September included a former St. Jude patient as a crew member.
St. Jude’s fundraiser mailings heavily rely on patients in the middle of cancer treatment.
Last year, St. Jude raised a record $2 billion. U.S. News & World Report ranked it the country’s 10th-best children’s cancer hospital, and St. Jude raised roughly as much as the nine hospitals ahead of it put together. It currently has $5.2 billion in reserves, a sum large enough to run the institution at current levels for the next four and a half years without a single additional donation.
St. Jude makes a unique promise as part of its fundraising: “Families never receive a bill from St. Jude for treatment, travel, housing or food — because all a family should worry about is helping their child live.”
St. Jude’s Raised More Money in 2019 Than the Rest of …….