Ascension backs off plan to cut services at Milwaukee hospital

A blue hospital sign on the side of a building
Ascension Wisconsin is walking back its plan to reduce services at St. Joseph Hospital in northern Milwaukee after encountering resistance from politicians and other area healthcare organizations. (Getty/Manuel-F-O)

Public pressure has Ascension Wisconsin rethinking its decision to cut nonessential services at St. Joseph Hospital in northern Milwaukee.

St. Louis-based Catholic health giant Ascension has been pursuing a new strategic direction in the face of financial losses and increased competition from nontraditional sites of care across its footprint. Its aim to shift resources toward ambulatory settings and away from inpatient care led to Ascension Wisconsin’s recent announcement that it would limit services at St. Joseph’s Hospital in northern Milwaukee.

RELATED: Ascension's merger talks with Providence St. Joseph end as it pursues new strategic direction

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Strong protests from area stakeholders who said the company’s move would effectively abandon a low-income neighborhood have now put Ascensions initial plan on ice, reported the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinal.

“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 Milwaukee as we continue to engage stakeholders on transforming healthcare in Milwaukee,” said Bernie Sherry, senior vice president of Ascension Health in a statement.

RELATED: Ascension, other hospitals cut jobs amid fiscal pressures and ACA uncertainty

Critiques of Ascension’s plans rolled in from leaders such as Milwaukee’s Mayor Tom Barrett, U.S. Rep. Gwen Moore, D-Wisc., and the Milwaukee Common Council, as well as area facilities Aurora Sinai Medical Center and Froedtert Hospital.

Ascension had originally hoped to get partner organizations to use the space it expected to free in the hospital in order to collaborate on community-minded healthcare solutions. While momentum to build such partnerships appears to be growing, Ascension’s experience suggests organizations will need to tread carefully and build such relationships while maintaining existing services where possible.

A resolution passed by the Milwaukee Common Council requested that Ascension Wisconsin “work with community leaders, elected officials and other local stakeholders to find alternatives to service reductions and ways to preserve health care services for Milwaukee residents, particularly in economically distressed areas of the city.”

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