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Is a $1.2M grant the best UMMS can do to fight poverty? | READER COMMENTARY

The University of Maryland Medical System last year installed a 4,500-square-foot modular care unit, foreground, with all the medical equipment needed to serve 16 coronavirus patients on a parking lot across the street from its downtown Baltimore hospital. (Kenneth K. Lam/Baltimore Sun).
The University of Maryland Medical System last year installed a 4,500-square-foot modular care unit, foreground, with all the medical equipment needed to serve 16 coronavirus patients on a parking lot across the street from its downtown Baltimore hospital. (Kenneth K. Lam/Baltimore Sun). (Kenneth K. Lam)

On Aug. 2, The Sun reported that the University of Maryland Medical System is giving $1.2 million to various anti-hunger agencies in Maryland in recognition of the social determinants of health (“University of Maryland Medical System to give $1.2 million to address hunger in the state”). Surely a generous gesture that only a curmudgeon could criticize.

Having taught classes on the social determinants of health, next door at the University of Maryland School of Social Work, I can attest to the importance of addressing hunger, housing, poverty and other forms of injustice. Yet one wonders why the nonprofit UMMS has a spare million dollars, especially given the exorbitant compensation of its administrators. The latest tax return publicly available, for the fiscal year ending in June 2020, shows six administrators each being paid more than these hunger grants, and the 21 best paid staff receiving a total of more than $20 million per annum.

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Perhaps the answer is found in the pay rates for the employees at UMMS who do the important work of patient transport, preparing and delivering food and keeping the institution clean and secure. According to payscale.com, patient care technicians at UMMS are paid $14.95 per hour, compared to more than $1,000 per hour for the CEO, assuming a 40-hour work week. It would not be surprising if some UMMS employees might benefit from the aid of the anti-hunger organizations.

Meanwhile the residents of Poppleton are among those being displaced by development facilitated by the hospital and the University (“As Baltimore’s Poppleton neighborhood braces for change, residents liken it to a ‘family’ being broken apart,” Jul 23), as well as by millions of dollars provided by the city (“Baltimore officials declare new ‘standard’ for passing development subsidies,” Feb. 01, 2016) to the billionaire private developers of the BioPark.

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The National Low Income Housing Coalition finds that a worker must be paid $26.62 per hour to afford a two-bedroom apartment in the Baltimore area. If UMMS and other Baltimore employers paid a housing wage, perhaps they would no longer be able to afford anti-hunger grants, but such assistance might become rare and brief.

Jeff Singer, Towson

The writer is an adjunct instructor at the University of Maryland School of Social Work.

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