Ascension makes headlines: 5 reasons why

St. Louis-based Ascension is the fourth-largest health system in the United States, operating 139 hospitals across 17 states — from New York to Texas. 

Recently, the nonprofit healthcare giant has been making headlines. Here are five reasons why: 

1. Split president and CEO roles: On Feb. 1, Ascension split its president and CEO roles in a rare redistribution of responsibilities. Previous president and CEO Joseph Impicciche remained in the CEO role while Eduardo Conrado — former executive vice president and chief strategy and innovation officer — became president.

2. Strong finances: Ascension has an "AA+ rating" and stable outlook with Fitch. Several factors contribute to its high marks, including a strong financial profile assessment and significant market presence in key areas.

3. Wage theft accusations: Nurses from Ascension St. Joseph-Joliet (Ill.) filed a class-action lawsuit against the health system Feb. 22, alleging wage theft. The nurses say the health system has increased executive pay while attempting to cut labor costs, leading to staffing problems. 

Additionally, the lawsuit says the health system fails to pay workers the correct amounts, and complaints are not resolved in a timely manner because the payroll department is in St. Louis. Ascension denies these claims, telling Becker's, "We pride ourselves on paying every associate a fair wage."

4. Senator probing investment practices: Sen. Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin is probing Ascension, alleging it operates on private interests despite its nonprofit, tax-exempt status. She claims Ascension Capital, the health system's "strategic investment initiative," lost more than $750 million in the most recent financial quarter, which is around $200 million more than Ascension put toward charity care in the same time span. On Feb. 13, Ms. Baldwin demanded a written response to eight questions regarding the health system's investment activities. 

Ascension told Becker's it is proud of its mission to "provide care for the most vulnerable," and that it will cooperate with Ms. Baldwin's requests. 

5. Service cuts: Services have been cut from multiple Ascension hospitals recently, with birth-related services taking the biggest hit. Ascension St. Francis Hospital in Milwaukee ended labor and delivery services at the end of December, causing healthcare workers to protest at the beginning of January. Ascension Providence Hospital-Southfield (Mich.) ended midwife services at the end of February, though obstetric physicians will still deliver infants. And Ascension St. Vincent's Riverside in Jacksonville, Fla., will end maternity services March 19, affecting 68 jobs. In Wisconsin and Florida, the cuts were attributed to declining patient volumes. 

Additionally, the health system shared plans to partially or fully end services at 11 clinics across Indiana because of COVID-19's "significant operational toll."  

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