Milwaukee Alderman Bob Donovan is calling on Ascension Wisconsin to postpone any reduction in services at the Wheaton Franciscan-St. Joseph Campus in Milwaukee for at least a year in hopes of encouraging the health system ultimately to reverse its decision.
Donovan was joined by fellow aldermen Mark Borkowski and Michael Murphy at a press conference Thursday to raise concerns about the St. Louis-based health system’s plans to eliminate surgical services and inpatient stays at the hospital. St. Joseph, located at 5000 W. Chambers St., is a safety-net hospital that serves high volumes of patients covered by Medicare and Medicaid.
Donovan implored Ascension to halt its downsizing plans and take time to determine how it can retain those services.
He said Ascension’s status as a nonprofit organization behooves its leaders to not make decisions solely on financial considerations, but also its Catholic mission of serving vulnerable populations.
“For those that count on St. Joseph, this is not an abstraction,” he said. “This is a life or death question of where to go when a child is sick or injured and where to go even for a routine checkup.”
Downsizing services at St. Joseph exacerbates health care disparities, forcing poorer patients to travel farther to see providers, Murphy said. It also puts more burden on Aurora Sinai Medical Center and Froedtert Hospital, the next closest hospitals to St. Joseph, he said.
In an interview with BizTimes Milwaukee last week, Bernie Sherry, senior vice president and ministry market executive for Ascension Wisconsin, said the consolidation of lower-volume services at other facilities will help stem losses that St. Joseph has seen in recent years. The hospital posted an operating loss of about $20 million in 2016, according to the most recently available data from the Wisconsin Hospital Association.
George Hinton, CEO of the Social Development Commission and former president and CEO of Aurora Sinai, said large health systems should lean on the profitable arms of their business – facilities with higher percentages of commercial insured patients – to sustain the financially-challenged ones.
“If you move all of your orthopedic services and your oncology services and your heart services from a particular hospital because you want to use those resources to attract more people in commercial areas, you have an obligation then to protect that hospital that you moved those services from,” Hinton said.
Sherry stressed Ascension’s commitment to the St. Joseph campus in a statement late Thursday.
“Ascension St. Joseph is committed to maintaining the emergency department, OB/GYN and our Women’s Health Department, our NICU, observation beds and to growing our primary care clinic. This program of services represents a $150 million annual commitment,” he said. “At the same time, our vision is to transform the St. Joe’s campus into an urban health village that brings together partners to address social and community needs and spark economic investment in the Sherman Park neighborhood. We invite the public to talk with us to shape this innovative approach to community health and wellness together.”
Since the plans for St. Joseph hospital surfaced, Donovan has raised concerns about the Wheaton Franciscan Healthcare – St. Francis campus on the city’s south side.
The health system issued a statement Thursday in response:
“Ascension Wisconsin is committed to the future of St. Francis and to providing quality care to all who trust us with their care. As we continue to come together as Ascension Wisconsin, we are working to understand the changing needs of individuals we serve so that we are best positioned to meet those needs. We continue to consider how we may evolve our core services to stabilize and reshape our offerings at St. Francis and across our greater Milwaukee sites of care to deliver quality services and the greatest value for our communities.”