Ascension St. Francis Hospital in Milwaukee will close its labor and delivery unit by the end of the week.
The last patient in the unit will be discharged on Friday, according to a statement from an Ascension Wisconsin spokesperson.
“Labor and Delivery Unit associates will provide additional maternal and fetal expertise in the Ascension St. Francis Emergency Room through January 7, 2023, to ensure a smooth transition,” said the statement.
The labor and delivery unit at St. Francis Hospital is the only one on Milwaukee’s south side.
Delivery services through Ascension will continue at Ascension Columbia St. Mary’s Hospital on the East Side of Milwaukee, in addition to St. Joseph’s hospital on Milwaukee's northwest side.
Following the announcement of the planned closure, four members of the Milwaukee Common Council issued a joint statement Tuesday voicing concern regarding access to health care for families, including the Hispanic and immigrant communities on the south side.
“This decision means that expecting families have to travel further for the care they may need, and also could have a negative impact on our districts,” said the statement from Alderman Scott Spiker, Alderwoman JoCasta Zamarripa, Alderwoman Marina Dimitrijevic and Common Council President José G. Pérez.
The proposed closure will not just affect patients, but also caregivers – about a dozen of whom are facing unemployment right before the holidays – the four aldermen said. Nurses on the unit were offered severance packages or were told they could apply to other spots in the Ascension system, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
“We thank the health care workers for their service during these challenging times and will continue to work with Ascension to improve health care access on Milwaukee's south side,” said the council in a statement.
State Sen. Chris Larson, D-Milwaukee, echoed the sentiment in a press statement this week, wherein he attributes the decision to “a pattern of allocating resources away from (Ascension’s) union hospitals…to their non-union counterparts.”
“As the American health care industry continues its march toward rapid growth and consolidation, it is health care workers – and the patients they care for – who stand to lose the most,” Larson said. “We don’t have a health care system so much as a profit machine that punishes the sick and rewards the greedy.”
In his statement, Larson directed readers to a Dec. 15 New York Times investigative article that found Ascension Health “spent years reducing its staffing levels in an effort to improve profitability, even though the chain is a nonprofit organization with nearly $18 billion in cash reserves.”
“Ascension, which runs 139 hospitals, among the most of any chain in the United States, is emblematic of the industrywide movement to keep labor costs low,” and the subsequent combination of layoffs and attrition left the system “flat-footed for COVID,” said the article.
In its statement, Ascension Wisconsin said it was committed to supporting “impacted associates” through the transition and will continue to provide gynecologic, prenatal and postpartum care to patients.
The Wisconsin Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals, the labor union representing some of the hospital workers at St. Francis, held a rally outside Milwaukee City Hall Tuesday night expressing their desire for Ascension to keep the labor and delivery unit at St. Francis Hospital open.
"The south side community deserves a fully-funded, safely staffed labor and delivery unit," said Connie Smith, president of the Wisconsin Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals and an employee at St. Francis, to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. "Shame on Ascension."
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