Viewpoints: What an Advocate Aurora and Atrium combination means for southeastern Wisconsin

Last updated on July 8th, 2022 at 11:38 am

If we’ve heard it once, we’ve heard it a thousand times: the health care industry is evolving.

Advocate Aurora Health and Atrium Health’s pending union likely didn’t come as a major shock to those who’ve been paying attention. In addition to mounting pressures on health systems and sweeping shifts in health care delivery, Advocate Aurora has been vocal about the benefits of scale as it looks to expand access and improve outcomes.

Still, any proposed union prompts critics to question the impact on patients and local communities: Will there be fewer jobs for workers here in southeast Wisconsin? What’s the economic impact of moving the health system’s primary headquarters to North Carolina? How will this combination improve care for our community?

As president of the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce, I’m often asked such questions when organizations look to combine business operations. These are issues that require careful analysis. In this case, we need only to look back at the 2018 merger of Advocate and Aurora. Far from disrupting community engagement, the combined health system boosted its involvement with the creation of 5,000 new jobs, $2.6 billion in capital investments to expand care access, and a range of initiatives aimed at broadening its reach and advancing health equity.

In recent years—and amid the COVID-19 pandemic—Advocate Aurora reinforced its commitment to creating permanent housing solutions for homeless patients through a public-private partnership; improving access to emergency behavioral health care with the opening of the Mental Health Emergency Center; and supporting workforce development with a pipeline model.

In 2020, it contributed more than $1.6 billion in charitable care and other community benefit services in Wisconsin—that’s more than a 33% increase over 2017.

Meanwhile, the health system participates in MMAC’s pledge to increase workplace diversity in metro Milwaukee and is committed to not only hiring more employees and managers of color, but also increasing financial support for minority- and women-owned businesses in the area. Advocate Aurora also aims to generate economic opportunity through its Supplier Diversity Program, which it says is integral to the health system’s strategic sourcing and procurement processes.

It’s initiatives like these that make our region a more attractive place to live and work.

The decision to create a joint operating company, in which each organization retains its existing assets, ensures the continuation of Advocate Aurora’s significant local footprint and status as one of the area’s largest employers.

I’m encouraged by Atrium CEO Eugene Woods’ pledge to “deepen our commitments to health equity, create more jobs and opportunities for our teammates and communities, launch new game-changing innovations and so much more.”

Projecting more population health and biomedical roles, as well as new construction and education opportunities, health system leaders have pledged to create more than 20,000 direct and indirect jobs over 10 years.

Just as the health care industry is evolving, so too must our health care providers. Any move that strengthens Advocate Aurora ultimately strengthens its ability to care for our local communities.

Tim Sheehy is the president of the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce.

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