The head of the fundraising arm for Royal Inland Hospital says she’s willing to use gaming money for equipment or mental-health programs, but she likes the idea of there being some kind of limits to prevent people with gambling addiction from participating.
Heidi Coleman, executive director of the RIH Foundation, was commenting Tuesday after the Canadian Medical Association Journal published an editorial condemning hospitals that use lotteries to fundraise.
CMAJ editor-in-chief Dr. John Fletcher said hospitals would never sell cigarettes, which can be addictive, but some promote lotteries, which can also be addictive and have the potential to cause people harm.
He questioned if hospitals have lost their moral compass to blind themselves to the ‘first do no harm’ duty of the medical profession to the lure of easy revenue.
But Coleman said it’s a difficult choice, given the long lists of needed equipment and programs that hospitals have.
The RIH Foundation doesn’t have a lottery at this point, but the auxiliary gets gaming money that it funnels to the foundation, she said.
The foundation also gets money for equipment from local Lions and Rotary clubs — groups that access gaming money.
On the other hand, the foundation has chipped in for mental health and addictions services through the Phoenix Centre and Emerald Centre, Coleman pointed out.
“It’s a hard one. I don’t want to say no to the gaming money,” she said.
When she worked for a hospital in Montreal, a tobacco company gave a donation but was advised the corporate name would not be printed by the foundation. Coleman said the company agreed, then included the donation in its own reports, which caused some controversy.
An estimated four per cent of Canadian adults are believed to have a gambling problem. But this small segment generates about 23 per cent of gambling revenue in the country, the editorial says.
Fletcher said out-of-control gambling can have devastating consequences for an individual addicted to playing the odds as they spend more and more chasing losses and looking for the big win. They can rack up huge credit card debt, mortgage the house or even end up in bankruptcy, divorce, depression and suicide.
But he didn’t suggest a ban on hospital lotteries; rather, he said there should be limits to protect people with gambling addiction.
Coleman liked the idea of perhaps setting limits for those who buy tickets, as is done in the U.K.
She hasn’t explored the idea of a big lottery here, such as raffling off a house, because that’s the YM/YWCA’s major fundraiser.
However, she’s not about to turn down the money that comes to the foundation through other groups, as it is for a good cause.
“It’s hard in our current situation with program and equipment lists to refuse money,” she said.
“But I would like to know it’s coming from responsible gamblers. It’s definitely food for thought.”
With files from The Canadian Press