Ascension puts St. Joseph hospital downsizing plans on hold

Follows mounting pressure from city leaders

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Ascension Wisconsin has decided to halt its downsizing plans at Wheaton Franciscan – St. Joseph Campus in Milwaukee, following mounting concerns raised by city leaders and residents.

Bernie Sherry, senior vice president of Ascension Healthcare and ministry market executive of Ascension Wisconsin, announced the decision Wednesday.

St. Joseph Hospital

“Based on the feedback we’ve received from the mayor, Common Council members, community leaders and others, we have decided to pause our plan to reconfigure medical services from St. Joe’s to Columbia St. Mary’s Milwaukee as we continue to engage stakeholders on transforming health care in Milwaukee,” he said.

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The St. Louis-based health system announced plans earlier this month to eliminate surgical services and inpatient stays at the safety-net hospital, located at 5000 W. Chambers St. Sherry did not say Wednesday how long those plans will remain on hold, or whether the health system is abandoning them altogether.

City leaders, including several aldermen, were quick to raise concerns when Ascension first unveiled its plans, saying the move would adversely affect patients who rely on those services and exacerbate health disparities between those with the financial means to pay for care and those without.

About 80 percent of St. Joseph hospital’s patients are covered by Medicare or Medicaid, which reimburse hospitals at less than cost, and about 5 percent of its patients are uninsured.

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The Common Council approved a resolution this week urging Ascension executives to establish a one-year moratorium on any downsizing and service reductions at St. Joseph hospital and its other health care facilities.

“We’re gratified that the Common Council recognizes our role as critical, frontline care institutions. With three city hospitals – Ascension St. Joseph, Ascension Columbia St. Mary’s Milwaukee and Ascension St. Francis – we are Milwaukee’s safety net hospital system,” Sherry said in his statement. “We provide 100 percent access, regardless of a patient’s ability to pay. We’re proud of that and we remain committed to that.”

The St. Joseph hospital posted an operating loss of about $20 million in 2016, according to the most recently available data from the Wisconsin Hospital Association. Sherry had said consolidating lower-volume services at other facilities would help to stem those losses.

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