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Officials push back on plans to close two Wisconsin hospitals

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U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin is asking HSHS to delay the closings, which are slated to happen in the spring. Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers has expressed disappointment at the lack of notice.

Since the Hospital Sisters Health System announced its plan to close two hospitals in Wisconsin, some of the state’s elected officials have not been shy about expressing their dismay.

Image credit: HSHS

HSHS has announced plans to close two hospitals in Wisconsin: Sacred Heart Hospital in Eau Claire, above, and HSHS St. Joseph’s Hospital in Chippewa Falls. (Image: HSHS)

U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wisc., has asked HSHS to postpone its plans to close the hospitals in western Wisconsin. Baldwin sent a letter to the system this week asking HSHS to delay the shutdown of the facilities. “HSHS should consider delaying closures to ensure health care services continue to be available in the Chippewa Valley,” she wrote.

“As a mission-driven health care system, I urge you to abide by your stated values as you wind down operations at Sacred Heart and St. Joseph’s Hospitals,” Baldwin wrote in the letter. “It is imperative that HSHS maintain transparency and communicate clear transition plans to patients, employees, and health care partners remaining in the region, as well as state and local government.”

Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers has said the system should have provided more notice to his administration about the plans to close the two hospitals. Evers has called the planned closures a “shock.”

"I'm incredibly disappointed as governor because of how this happened and how it was handled, frankly it's wrong," Evers said at a public meeting earlier this month, WQOW-TV reported.

In a statement after a meeting with state and local leaders, Evers said, "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."

HSHS announced in January that it is closing HSHS Sacred Heart Hospital in Eau Claire and HSHS St. Joseph’s Hospital in Chippewa Falls. The HSHS Sacred Heart hospital has 192 beds, while HSHS St. Joseph’s has about 100, according to the American Hospital Directory.

The hospitals are slated to close around the end of March, HSHS said in a notice to patients. HSHS plans to close St. Joseph’s Hospital on or before March 22, the system said In a statement to WEAU-TV. HSHS cited the “longstanding low patient census in addition to operational and staffing challenges.”

Prevea Health, a physician network providing primary and specialty care, plans to close its locations in western Wisconsin’s Chippewa Valley. Prevea’s clinics are slated to close in late April.

Between the planned closures, more than 1,400 people are losing jobs, including 1,082 HSHS employees and 325 Prevea physicians and staffers.

In announcing the closures last month, HSHS pointed to workforce challenges, higher costs and the struggles of many rural hospitals.

Damond Boatwright, president and CEO of HSHS, said in the announcement last month, “Our operations in the region have struggled for the past several years due to a mismatch in the supply of and demand for local health care services.”

Wisconsin state officials are working with other providers to see if they can offer care to patients affected by the closures. Deb Standridge, Wisconsin’s deputy secretary of health services, has said the administration is reaching out to providers such as the Marshfield Clinic Health System and the Mayo Clinic for assistance.

“We are especially concerned about patients with ongoing care needs, pregnant women, and those with mental health, behavioral health, and substance use disorders,” Standridge said in a statement last month.

The Evers administration is also working to help workers find new jobs.

Wisconsin lawmakers are also looking at ways to use state money to help the affected communities, Wisconsin Public Radio reports. Lawmakers have crafted measures to tap $15 million set aside for HSHS to provide additional psychiatric bed space.

In her letter, Baldwin asked HSHS to consider offers to buy the facilities and equipment that would allow continued services for patients served by Sacred Heart and St. Joseph’s Hospitals.

The senator also reiterated the health system’s responsibility to provide pay and benefits for all employees.

“Should I receive any complaints of early termination from my constituents, I will work to ensure those allegations are fully investigated,” Baldwin said in the letter.

Read more: Wisconsin hospital system announces furloughs after merger talks end

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