'A dire situation': Lawmaker calls for resources amid HSHS/Prevea closures

U.S. Rep. Derrick Van Orden of Wisconsin has expressed concerns to Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers over the planned closure of two Hospital Sisters Health System hospitals and regional health centers the system operates with Green Bay, Wis.-based Prevea Health.

"Rural communities, like those in the Third Congressional District, are continuously left on the sidelines when it comes to accessible healthcare, and these hospital closures will only make it more difficult for Wisconsinites to get the medical care they need," Mr. Van Orden said in a Feb. 5 letter addressed to Mr. Evers. 

HSHS' Eau Claire, Wis.-based Sacred Heart Hospital is expected to close on or before April 21. The health system's Chippewa Falls, Wis.-based St. Joseph's Hospital will be closing on or before March 22, with the Prevea Health clinics closing on or before June 30. 

"I have been in constant contact with all relevant stakeholders to develop solutions for the 1,400 western Wisconsinites that are out of a job and rural Wisconsin families that will shortly be without medical care," Mr. Van Orden said in the letter.

The letter also noted that the hospital and clinic closures will result in the loss of two of four emergency rooms; rural and urban EMS services; a cancer center with more than 400 patients, 100 of whom are actively undergoing treatment; more than 100 medical beds, including 15 critical care beds; a wound care clinic with hyperbaric capabilities and more than 175 existing patients; the only inpatient adolescent psychiatric unit in Western Wisconsin; a dialysis treatment center with 50 patients; and a birthing center that is anticipated to serve anywhere from 900 to 1,200 pregnant mothers.

Calling the closures "a dire situation," Mr. Van Orden urged Mr. Evers to join him in requesting all available state and federal resources to bolster care access in Wisconsin.

Mr. Van Orden's letter comes as Mr. Evers connected with Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development leaders and other local leaders to provide the community with updates regarding the closures.

"Our administration is working diligently to help connect affected workers with jobs, ensure patients have uninterrupted access to care, and coordinate with insurers to make sure that people retain continuous, affordable insurance coverage," Mr. Evers said in a Feb. 5 press release shared with Becker's. "We're going to keep working to find immediate and long-term solutions to help address these challenges with every tool and resource that we have at the state level."

The state DWD and the West Central Works Workforce Development Board are planning to host multiple community job fairs with healthcare and other regional employers in an effort to aid the approximately 1,400 employees being affected by the closures. 

"Through the coordinated rapid response efforts, this support includes assistance with job search and placement, unemployment insurance application assistance, interview preparation, career counseling, and navigation of child care and health insurance information, among other resources," Amy Pechacek, secretary of the Wisconsin DWD, said in the release.

The Department of Health Services is also working to help provide transitional healthcare access to HSHS and Prevea patients affected by the closures.

"We are especially concerned about patients with ongoing care needs, pregnant women, and those with mental health, behavioral health, and substance use disorders," Den Strandridge, deputy secretary of the Wisconsin DHS, said in the release. "These issues are not going away, and to address the urgent needs of patients in the Chippewa Valley, we are working with other regional providers, including the Marshfield and Mayo Clinic systems, to open up access to the greatest extent possible."

Becker's has reached out to Springfield, Ill.-based HSHS for comment regarding the letter and will update this story as more information becomes available.

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