Wisconsin hospital closures jolt local officials

A plan to close two hospitals and numerous clinic locations affecting more than 1,000 jobs in Wisconsin has caught local officials by surprise. 

Hospital Sisters Health System announced Jan. 22 it will close Sacred Heart Hospital in Eau Claire and St. Joseph's Hospital in Chippewa Falls near the end of Q1 2024 and close nearly 20 health centers it operates in the region with multispecialty group Prevea Health. 

The moves will terminate the nonprofit system's presence in Western Wisconsin and affect 1,407 jobs. 

Now Chippewa Falls Mayor Greg Hoffman is telling Wisconsin Public Radio the shutdown strategy was news to him and other local leaders. He had heard concerns about the finances of St. Joseph's Hospital for several years, but was unaware that the situation had escalated to closures. The mayor said HSHS did not alert local leaders of the plan. 

The mayor and other local officials are working to contact other healthcare systems in the area to intervene and continue operations of the hospitals, Mr. Hoffman told the local news outlet. 

Sacred Heart Hospital has 192 beds and St. Joseph's Hospital has 102 beds. The hospitals date back to 1889 and 1885, respectively, and have major service lines for their areas. Sacred Heart, for example, is the only hospital in northwest Wisconsin with a behavioral health department.

In announcing the closures, HSHS President and CEO Damond Boatwright said the system "considered all other options" and determined the market exit was the only feasible path forward "after an agreement with a suitable partner did not work out." 

The prospective partner was not specified. An attempted integration or agreement by HSHS has not been previously reported. 

The closures will bring HSHS, established in 1978, from a 15-hospital to a 13-hospital system. It is headquartered in Springfield, Ill.

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