4 Updates on the Problems at Ascension Columbia St. Mary’s

Since our initial report a month ago, the hospital has paused many surgeries and the reports have continued.

Late last month, a Milwaukee Magazine’s investigative report revealed how severe staffing shortages at Ascension Columbia St. Mary’s hospital have led to staff concerns around patient safety. The article struck a nerve with Milwaukeeans: With just five days left in 2022, the story became our most-read digital story of the year. 

The impact has reached beyond the magazine pages, too. A few updates since the story was first published on Dec. 27: 

PAUSE IN ELECTIVE SURGERIES: On Jan. 9, Ascension Wisconsin administration announced a temporary pause in nonurgent elective surgeries at Columbia St. Mary’s through mid-February. Talking points in the announcement included directing staff to keep discussions around rescheduling positive and to avoid discussing reasons for the change. 

ST. FRANCIS PROTESTS: On Wednesday night, health care workers protested outside City Hall over the Dec. 23 closure of Ascension St. Francis Hospital’s labor and delivery unit. It was the latest in a series of rallies protesting Ascension’s pulling the plug on the birthing center at the hospital, which critics say has left women on the South Side without options for pregnancy care. The MilMag report highlighted an exodus in doctors from Columbia St. Mary’s birthing unit.  


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MORE MEDIA REPORTS: Other local news outlets have reported on troubles at Ascension and Columbia St. Mary’s as well. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel published an in-depth story similar to the MilMag report on Thursday. And on Jan. 11, Urban Milwaukee published a Murphy’s Law column by former MilMag editor Bruce Murphy detailing the “vast wealth” of the nonprofit health network from a local perspective. In December, just before our report, The New York Times published a scathing story linking Ascension’s staffing levels and accumulated wealth of the 19-state health network. 

MORE STAFF AND PATIENT REPORTS: Milwaukee Magazine has also heard from dozens of additional former Columbia St. Mary’s patients and employees, many of whom have shared their own experiences with Ascension. One such note came from Ann Beppler, a former nurse at the Ascension Ozaukee campus. “There has never been a nursing shortage,” writes Beppler, who says she started working as a bedside nurse in 1986. “There is only a shortage of nurses willing to work in threatening conditions. … Conditions that are threatening to our sleep, health and well-being. Threatening to patients. … Thank you for hearing and conveying our truth.”

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