Ascension looking for partners at St. Joseph to address health disparities

Could include transportation, education, job training organizations

Ascension Wisconsin is looking for partners in its plan to blend traditional medical services with social services to  address health disparities at the Wheaton Franciscan-St. Joseph Campus on the city’s north side.

The Wheaton Franciscan-St. Joseph Campus in Milwaukee.

Ascension recently issued an “open letter to the Milwaukee community,” which was distributed to community newspapers, employees and city officials, in which it said the system is seeking partners in its effort to better address social determinants of health at its campus, located at 5000 W. Chambers St. in Milwaukee’s Sherman Park neighborhood.

“We’re looking for partners that can offer complimentary services, partners that share our vision, mission and values to create healthier communities, partners that can work with us to create sustainability and revitalize both the Sherman Park community and West Burleigh Street,” said Reggie Newson, chief advocacy officer for Ascension Wisconsin.

Ascension officials in April announced plans to downsize services at St. Joseph and lease the vacated space to community organizations that address social determinants of health. The plan was an effort to stem losses at the safety-net hospital, which serves a high volume of patients who are not covered by commercial insurance. Following mounting concerns from city and community leaders, officials said a few weeks later that they would halt those plans. Officials said the campus will maintain its medical services, including inpatient beds, ICU, surgery, emergency medicine, OB/GYN and NICU,.

Immediately after those plans were announced in April, Newson said, Ascension officials began meeting with community leaders and elected officials about the vision of making St. Joseph a “community anchor” that provides medical services and partners with organizations to address barriers to health. Those services could include long-term care, multi-generational and multi-income housing, education and job training, transportation and healthy foods.

“We know that because health care is changing, we need to work to not only make sure we make access to care as close to people as possible…but also to (address) some of the things that impact people’s health,” Newson said. “Do they have access to housing? Do they have employment? Do they have access to healthy food?”

Newson said Ascension’s current community engagement process will determine the “nature of the partnerships,” including whether their partners will co-locate on St. Joseph’s campus. There is not currently a timeline on when the campus will launch those partnerships, Newson said.

Ascension is also reaching out to other health systems, insurance providers and federally qualified health centers on the initiative, Newson said.

“We’re having dialogue, looking at partnerships with the goal of keeping those communities healthier,” he said.

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