Facing hard times, Shriners may close 6 hospitals

GREENVILLE, S.C. (AP) - Shriners Hospitals, which has provided free care to children since before the Great Depression, is considering closing one quarter of its facilities.

The Florida-based group cites declining donations, higher costs and a shrinking endowment.

Officials are siphoning $1 million a day from the endowment to balance the budget for 22 hospitals in the U.S., Canada and Mexico.

The endowment has fallen from $8 billion to $5 billion less than one year because of the sputtering economy.

The group's annual meeting is July 6-8 in San Antonio.

About 1,200 Shriners will vote on whether to close hospitals in: Shreveport, La.; Erie, Pa.; Spokane, Wash.; Springfield, Mass., and Greenville, S.C..

The organization also will consider whether a hospital in Galveston, Texas - closed after damage from last year's Hurricane Ike - will remain shuttered.