But an Ascension Wisconsin spokesperson said such an agreement does not apply to health systems.
“Community Benefits Agreements are between community groups and real estate developers," the spokesperson said. "They identify a range of community benefits the developer agrees to provide as part of the development project in cases where the developer is seeking the community’s support of the project and may receive tax incentives or public funding to subsidize the project. These types of agreements do not apply to health systems.”SJAC argues that because of Ascension's tax-exempt status, it should be called upon to agree to specific enforceable community benefits. Gilliam said the coalition would like to see the health system work to provide access to more people from the neighborhood to the job pipeline through partnerships with area colleges' and universities' health care programs. Other ideas that have emerged in discussions include establishing an urgent care center in the area, funding programs that address social and economic determinants of health and a commitment to hiring locally for Ascension jobs. He said the coalition could build momentum for a unionization effort at St. Joseph’s, but it’s not the sole purpose. “If we build a union or not, that’s not the point,” Gilliam said. “We do have two labor unions that are part of the discussion and the community meetings, but that is not the end goal.” SJAC’s efforts coincide with a recent round of layoffs at Ascension St. Francis Hospital in Milwaukee, in which 21 positions were eliminated, Gilliam said. “People need to know how business decisions from St. Louis impact our ability to care for our community,” said Connie Smith, a surgical tech at Ascension St. Francis Hospital and chapter president with Wisconsin Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals. “Layoffs, staffing decisions, corporate restructures and service cuts all impact how well we can care for patients. Ascension needs to be accountable to community needs, not a corporate business plan.” In a statement Thursday, Reggie Newson, chief advocacy officer for Ascension Wisconsin, reiterated the health system's commitment to addressing community needs.
"We recognize Ascension St. Joseph is an anchor in the Sherman Park community. As we’ve been listening over the last several months, the community clearly expressed the need for traditional health care services along with more access to programs that address health and wellness differently," Newson said. "The information we heard through our community engagement process is guiding our vision for Ascension St. Joseph. In addition to the current services being offered at Ascension St. Joseph, we are taking the time to thoughtfully consider ideas that address these concerns and which ones can be implemented by us and/or through collaboration, strategic alliances and partnerships. In the coming weeks and months, we look forward to coming back to the community, sharing our ideas for improving health equity in the Ascension St. Joseph service area and continuing to engage the community throughout this process.”