Ascension suspends controversial plan to scale back services at Milwaukee hospital

After receiving feedback from concerned Milwaukee officials, Ascension Wisconsin decided to pause its plan to scale back services at Milwaukee-based Wheaton Franciscan-St. Joseph Hospital, a hospital spokesperson confirmed to Becker's Hospital Review.

Earlier in April, St. Joseph Hospital, which primarily serves patients covered by Medicare and Medicaid, announced plans to shutter its surgical and medical units, slowly sifting out inpatient care by July 1. The closure of the surgical and medical units would leave no general acute care hospital north of downtown Milwaukee, which is an area plagued with widespread health disparities.

At the time of the announcement, Ascension emphasized it was not leaving the city, as another Ascension Hospital, Milwaukee-based Columbia St. Mary's, is located 5.6 miles southeast of St. Joseph Hospital.

Since Ascension disclosed it would stop providing surgical and inpatient care at St. Joseph Hospital, the health system has received criticism from multiple city officials and residents. In addition, a Milwaukee Alderman urged the health system to postpone the scale back of services to collect community feedback.

"We have an economic model now where if you have money, you're going to get the best healthcare in the world, but if you're poor, guess what? Get on a bus, hopefully you can get to a hospital five miles away and maybe you'll get healthcare," Milwaukee Alderman Michael Murphy told Wisconsin Public Radio.

In response to the feedback, Ascension decided to put its plan on hold as it engages with more community leaders. 

"We've heard how important Ascension is to Milwaukee in providing healthcare to our most vulnerable neighbors. That is, and always has been, our Mission," Bernie Sherry, senior vice president who oversees the Wisconsin market of St. Louis-based Ascension Health, said in a statement emailed to Becker's Hospital Review. "Based on the feedback we've received from the mayor, common council members, community leaders and others, we have decided to pause our plan to reconfigure medical services from St. Joe's to Columbia St. Mary's as we continue to engage stakeholders on transforming healthcare in Milwaukee."

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