A couple of years ago the National Association of Children's Hospitals and Related Institutions Inc. commissioned a research report titled "The Uniqueness Report," designed to identify and measure the impact of the needs of hospitalized children on the hospitals' resources. It almost sounds like it was researched and written exclusively at Our Town's very own Children's Hospital National Medical Center.

The conclusions of the study shed some light on what makes pediatric facilities different from general hospitals, and contain some warnings about the financial problems children's hospitals sometimes face.

Among the key findings of the NACHRI report were:

Children's hospitals maintain more specialized facilities and services than do general hospitals, and commit about 2 1/2 times as many beds and days of care to intensive care.

Children's hospitals serve wider geographic areas than their counterparts and treat more "complicated patients" from outside their primary service areas. a

Ninety percent of all Children's hospital beds are in teaching hospitals where medical education, research and community service divisions cost almost three times as much to administer as do general hospitals.

The need for more personnel in children's hospitals is a major contributor to their higher costs. Medical procedures and treatment usually demand more time with children than adults, and require the involvement of more support services and staff per child than adults.

Children's hospitals experience a significantly higher amount of non-compensated care (free care) than general hospitals. They also receive less reimbursement from third party payers and depend more heavily on philanthropy and other sources to reduce the effects of free care and underpayment.

That sounds like the description of a place well-known to readers of "For the Love of Children," and, indeed, our Children's hospital was one of nine pediatric facilities compared to nine general hospitals in the report. A panel of child care experts reviewed its conclusions, commenting further on the problems these facilities face in financing their operations.

The panel said that the study demonstrated "the fragile condition of the financing of child health services in particular, which will produce dire consequences for the health care of children as a whole and not merely for pediatric care institutions, if solutions for adequate financing of children's health care are not found in the future."

The doctors and administrators at Children's Hospital assure me that they will never close their doors due to a lack of funds. But each year a significant portion of the hospital's operating budget is absorbed by giving free or low-cost medical treatment to needy children. Children's is legally required to make free care available to patients whose parents can't afford to pay for it, and to design graduated payment plans for those parents who can provide partial payment. An office at the hospital is there to determine the eligibility of patients for free care.

Restoring the health of a sick or injured child is the top priority at Children's Hospital. Taking care of needy children is its very costly responsibility.That's where we come in.

Every year The Washington Post, other media and area celebrities embark on separate missions in pursuit of the same goal. That goal is to raise as much money as possible for the free care fund at Children's. Last year the regional effort netted $1.7 million, or about a third of the expense of free care and collection losses at the hospital. This year we have to do better.

The reason is simple. Health care costs usually rise much faster than the consumer price index, and this dilemma is compounded by inflation. Although every penny raised here is used to aide needy children, we've never offset the cost of that free care. But we keep trying, for the love of children.

If you want to take part in this important effort, please send your tax-deductible check, made payable to Children's Hospital, to: Scott Chase, c/o The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071.

Free care will always be an aspect of the pioneering medical work done at Children's Hospital. Just a little help from the people it serves makes it all possible.