Ascension Columbia St. Mary’s Milwaukee working to become tertiary-care hospital

Ascension Columbia St. Mary’s Milwaukee is seeking to become a tertiary-care hospital, a designation given to major hospitals capable of handling the most advanced and specialized medical cases.

The Ascension Columbia St. Mary’s Milwaukee campus.

By doing so, the Milwaukee hospital would join the ranks of other large hospitals with established reputations for their sub-specialty services. Existing tertiary centers in the region include Aurora St. Luke’s Medical Center, Froedtert Hospital and ProHealth Care Waukesha Memorial Hospital.

For Ascension Wisconsin, the designation will mean patients being treated at the system’s 24 hospital campuses for advanced and complex cases will be able to transfer to the Milwaukee campus when necessary. It will allow them to stay within Ascension’s network, rather than having to be referred to another health system.

“At Ascension, we believe health care should be local and community hospitals should be able to provide 90 to 95 percent of anything you might need,” said Kelly Elkins, president of Ascension Columbia St. Mary’s Milwaukee and Ozaukee. “But for that 5 percent, you want to be at a center where they have the physician specialties and nursing resources and technology and equipment to handle that level of care. That’s what (Ascension CSM Hospital Milwaukee) is becoming for Ascension Wisconsin.”

Elkins said it’s important for Ascension Wisconsin to be able to retain patients within the system.

“It’s really necessary to make sure that individuals at Ozaukee or even as far north as Howard Young Medical Center (in Woodruff), if they need that high level of care, to be able to keep them within the system so their physicians can stay connected to what’s happening with them to keep them within one integrated system of care.”

“There are other wonderful health care organizations in this community, but I think it’s always great when we can continue to build upon that and particularly within the Ascension network,” she added. “Columbia St. Mary’s has been in this community for many, many years and has evolved. This is just yet another evolution in our legacy.”

The hospital has been working to become a tertiary center since last year and the process will likely continue over the next several years, Elkins said. The process has involved recruiting new physicians and sub-specialists, creating specialized nursing units, capital investments in surgical services and upgrading operating room equipment and imaging equipment, and positioning the facility for increased bed capacity.

The campus is licensed for about 400 beds and operates roughly 250 on any given day. Hospital leaders plan to build out existing space at the hospital to increase bed capacity.

Ascension Wisconsin plans to relocate its Sacred Heart Rehabilitation Hospital from the eighth floor of the Milwaukee hospital to another Ascension facility, which would free up space for a new medical/surgical nursing unit on that floor. The hospital is also in the design phase of expanding its labor and delivery service area in the Women’s Medical Center (formerly known as the Women’s Hospital) on the Milwaukee campus.

“We’ve run very full in the last year,” Elkins said. “We have grown tremendously at this campus. So our occupancy is quite high and we will need more space. We feel confident that we have the plan to get us there as the growth continues.”

Elkins said the effort to become a tertiary center is a “transformation” that won’t have a defined end point.

“You just become it,” she said. “We start becoming a receiving facility. We have brought on and hired new physicians to our network. We ramp up some of the tertiary programs. It’s an evolution.”

Get our email updates

Lauren Anderson
Lauren Anderson covers health care, nonprofits, education and insurance for BizTimes. Lauren previously reported on education for the Waukesha Freeman. She graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she studied journalism, history and African studies. In her free time, Lauren enjoys spending time with family and friends and seeing live music wherever she can.