RELATED: 4 Updates on the Problems at Ascension Columbia St. Mary’s
On Monday, U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin sent a letter to Ascension chief executive Joseph Impicciche raising concerns about how the nonprofit health care network, which runs five facilities in Milwaukee County, invests the money from its sizable investment portfolio back into its Wisconsin hospitals.
In the letter, Sen. Baldwin writes:
As a nonprofit, tax-exempt, health system, Ascension is required to provide charitable benefits to the community … I am concerned that the opposite is occurring – that by operating like a private equity fund, Ascension is squeezing staff, closing facilities, and extracting cash from its member hospitals for dubious “management fees” all to advance its investment activities and provide compensation to its executives.
The letter comes on the heels of a December Milwaukee Magazine investigation and a January report in the Journal Sentinel, both of which reveal how severe staffing shortages have led to staff concerns around patient safety.
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On Wednesday, Baldwin, who cited both reports in her letter to Impicciche, said that she has heard similar frustrations from healthcare workers across Wisconsin. “I’ve talked to a lot of doctors at these hospitals who feel like they are being set up to fail,” said Baldwin.
As to whether there’s a broader interest in creating legislation to better regulate how nonprofit hospitals operate, Baldwin said she believes the appetite in Congress will be “significant.”
“This isn’t a Wisconsin problem, this is a national problem,” said Baldwin. “My colleagues on both sides of the aisle care about the healthcare services provided to their constituents.”
Though Baldwin did not offer specific policy ideas, she said focusing on how groups earn a non-profit status is key. “There are certainly some policy guardrails that we could put up,” said the Senator. “But I’m still in the fact-finding part of my journey on this issue.”
Some of those facts, Baldwin hopes, will come from Ascension directly. In her letter, Baldwin, who also noted the shuttering of Ascension St. Francis’s labor and delivery unit, asked Impicciche to provide a detailed account of the network’s investments, re-investment in its hospitals, management fees, executive salaries, and financial statements.
“I represent people who go to Ascension for health care. And I represent people who work there,” said Baldwin. “When I have doctors saying that staffing decisions that hospitals have made are putting patients in jeopardy, that’s a big warning sign.”