Junior biomedical engineering major and Bulls for Kids (BFK) Vice President of Events Kevin Nguyen believes part of the difficulty of Shriners Hospital for Children closing Friday is the transformative period the two organizations will have to go through in their quest to improve patients’ experiences.
“We consider each other to be a close family … everything is very supportive to each other,” Nguyen said. “I think that the good memories are actually built upon the times that we’ve worked together late at 3 or 4 a.m. to pay the poster for the kids and then fundraising and then trying to get logistics figured out for the events.”
BFK is a student organization that works side-by-side with Shriners and the Tampa Bay community to fundraise and support underprivileged child patients across the area. Most notably, the team spearheads USF’s Dance Marathon, which raised over $60,000 for the hospital this past year, according to Nguyen.
“When you go to a dance marathon, you’d be able to see the reason why people work so hard for an entire year. For just a couple of hours, in that very specific moment, you’ll see a patient [who cannot] walk normally walk across the ceremony on his prosthetic legs,” he said. “Those are the kind of moments that are very important for us.”
Shriners used to treat patients just down the road from Juniper-Poplar Hall. The 35-year-old clinic was the only one in the state.
The hospital’s decision to close was not one made overnight, according to Chief Communication and Marketing Officer of Shriners Children’s Florida Mel Bower. In 2019, the hospital was downgraded from facilitating both in-patient and out-patient care to solely out-patient, preparing for its future closure.
Closing the Tampa hospital will equip Shriners with the capacity to expand care throughout the state and strengthen local, regional and statewide affiliates, according to Bower. As of now, the affiliates benefitting from the closure have not been named and are still being selected.
Families who rely on the proximity of the Tampa hospital’s care have been displaced, according to Bower. Those seeking Shriners’ treatment elsewhere will have to travel to Greenville, South Carolina, or even further to other clinics.
Additional reporting by Managing Editor Clinton Engelberger.