By Dylan Deprey
Since Ascension Wisconsin announced they would potentially be ending surgical services at St. Joseph’s Hospital in April, the Support St. Joe’s Coalition has been hard at work getting the community involved in the conversation.
Nurses, advocates, patients and neighbors came out to voice their opinions during the Support St. Joe’s Coalition Community Conversation at the Wisconsin Black Historical Society on Dec. 16.
“People shouldn’t have to drive across the city to get good healthcare,” said Nate Gillum, Wisconsin Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals. “We need to have an organized voice.”
He said that instead of simply addressing the budget cuts, the coalition’s goals were to create a community centered voice, have the hospital provide family supporting jobs and to close racial, gender and equity gaps.
Ascension is the largest non-profit healthcare system in the country, and initially took over Wheaton Franciscan’s southeast operation in 2016. It was reported that over the past six years St. Joseph Hospital, located on 50th and Chambers, had lost around $100 million, according to the Journal sentinel.
“It is the busiest emergency department in the state,” said Reggie Newson, Ascension Vice President of Affairs and Advocacy Officer. “We get between 50 and 70 thousand visits per year plus regular hospital visits.”
The Support St. Joe’s Coalition formed shortly after Ascension Wisconsin announced the potential cuts and includes: Citizen Action of Wisconsin, Wisconsin Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals, African American Roundtable, Black Communities Organizing for Communities, Community Taskforce MKE, Sherman Park Community Association, Metcalfe Park Community Bridges and Dominican Center.
Following criticism from organizations, city leaders and the community, Ascension put the plan for cuts on hold, but it still left the door open for conversation on bettering healthcare.
“How can I make the situation better and not just stop the cuts?” Gillum said.
During the conversation, a portion of the event, people sat in circles and gave their honest opinion on the hospital’s current status.
Shirley, a nurse who had worked in radiology for nearly 29 hears never thought her job was on the chopping block. She slowly saw her hours get lowered until she was eventually out of a job.
Shaniqua, a younger woman, said she felt as if specific insurance cards were given different treatment than others.
“I’ve been to the ER two times now, and I feel the same way as when I went in,” She said. “It’s like they stabilize you and then you’re out the door.”
Vaun Mayes, Community Taskforce MKE founder, said he has been to the hospital several times to assist families. He noted that although violent crimes, like shootings and stabbings, were unfortunately common in communities near St. Joesph Hospital, it did not actually have a trauma center.
“I’ve lived here my entire life and I didn’t know it didn’t have a trauma center,” Mayes said. “People rush their family here thinking they’re going to live, but then they’re stuck in the waiting room freaking out as their family heads to Froedtert”.
Other topics included community outreach, drug and alcohol treatment, STD awareness and mental health and pregnancy services. The pros and cons varied, but everybody had one common goal, to ensure quality healthcare remained available to low-income areas on Milwaukee’s Northside.
“This meeting isn’t going to be the end-all-be-all and change healthcare, but it’s the start of a process that we need to continue to do,” Gillum said.
For more information on the next community conversation visit www.supportstjoes.com