Decision to slim down services at St. Joe's Hospital ignites debate among city leaders

St. Joseph Hospital

MILWAUKEE -- Cutting services or reshaping a hospital's network? Milwaukee's St. Joseph Hospital is embroiled in controversy after it announced it will change the services it provides.

Ascension Wisconsin made the announcement public more than a week ago. Since then, it's been a stream of responses from city officials and those in the community.

"We have created our own problem by going to the suburbs for care and not going to the hospitals in our city," said Milwaukee Alderman Michael Murphy.

St. Joseph's Hospital prepares to limit its services to emergency care, women's care, the NICU, and primary care.

St. Joseph Hospital

"If you let the central city die, you're going to be impacted," said Murphy.

Hospital officials said they're not cutting services at St. Joe's, but are re-shaping their entire system based on services needed and used the most.

St. Joseph Hospital

Bob Donovan

"It's exceedingly frustrating when we have a situation like this when you have a nonprofit entity and it would appear the only thing guiding their decision making is profits," said Milwaukee Alderman Bob Donovan.

The move reflects a national trend of hospitals moving out of inner cities.

"This problem is beyond St. Joe's and beyond Ascension because the impact of St. Joe's decision will have a direct impact now on Aurora Sinai," Murphy said.

Aurora Health Care officials said the move will reduce or eliminate critical access points which will, "put additional pressure on other providers who are already at capacity. This pressure will undoubtedly have a negative domino impact on staffing and services for our entire community."

St. Joseph Hospital

"They have a moral obligation to this community and we're asking them to abide by that," Donovan said.

Whether it's cuts or reshaping, change is on its way and it may just be a battle of words.

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett said, any time you have fewer beds, people will be impacted. It is worth noting the Ascension network plans to hold a "community conversation" with members from City Hall in the near future about phase two of the project.

Statement from Ascension Wisconsin: 

"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," shared Bernie Sherry, Ministry Market Executive, Ascension Wisconsin. "This program of services represents a $150 million annual commitment. 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."

Statement from Froedtert Hospital:

"We were disappointed by the recent news of Ascension Wisconsin’s plans to significantly reduce services at its St. Joseph’s Hospital in Milwaukee. The hospital is an important safety net resource for city residents, and reducing services threatens the health status of that population and stresses other hospitals in the community.

"As partners in the Milwaukee Health Care Partnership, all of the health systems work together to assure access to care for medically underserved people in our community. Every change, especially one of this magnitude, has an impact on another part of the delivery system. It’s difficult to project the effect of Ascension’s plans for St Joseph’s without a detailed understanding of the scope of services that will remain on that campus, how the changes will be managed, how patients will be accommodated in the other Ascension hospitals and what choices patients will make about their care.

"Froedtert Hospital continues to experience high demand for both inpatient and emergency services, causing serious capacity constraints. The hospital often runs at between 90-95% capacity in medical-surgical care.

"We’re hopeful that Ascension will work with the Milwaukee Health Care Partnership to collaboratively assess the clinical, service and financial implications of its plans for St Joseph’s Hospital, with the goal of preserving patients’ access to the safest and highest quality care."

Statement from Aurora Health Care:

"In order to ensure all individuals have access to the top-quality health care they deserve, all providers must play a role.  As not-for-profit health care providers, we have a duty and responsibility to put the well-being of patients first and to prioritize the best interests of our community, our patients and their families.

"Aurora has a long history of demonstrating this commitment to serving the needs of our community, yet it’s a duty that we are unable to fulfill alone. Reducing and eliminating these critical access points will put additional pressure on other providers who are already at capacity. This pressure will undoubtedly have a negative domino impact on staffing and services for our entire community.

"We are hopeful that in the coming weeks all providers will renew their commitment to serving our entire community – ensuring there are no disruptions in care and services."

Statement in part from Milwaukee Alderman Tony Zielinski:

"The recent news of hospital downsizing and service cuts by Ascension Wisconsin in Milwaukee is extremely troubling to me. By making these choices Ascension is exacerbating the health care disparity problem in Milwaukee, where there is already insufficient delivery of health care services in neighborhoods where people of color reside."