By Karen Stokes
The typical thoughts on the role of hospitals are emergency rooms, maternity, surgeries and health care but now they play an additional role: charity care in the community along with economic development.
“Hospitals are so much more than what goes on inside their walls, they are critical parts of their community both as employers providing good family sustaining jobs and are stepping into the role of community health improvers, well beyond the role of sickness care,” Eric Borgerding, Wisconsin Hospital Association president/CEO, said.
The new 2021 Community Benefits Report from the Wisconsin Hospital Association (WHA) was recently published. It highlights the ways that Wisconsin hospitals participate in activities that benefit the communities they serve.
The report focuses on Wisconsin hospitals and health systems throughout the state. In the Milwaukee area the report recognized Aurora Sinai Medical Center, Aurora St. Luke’s Medical Center, Aurora St. Luke’s South Shore, Children’s Wisconsin Hospital – Milwaukee; Froedtert & Medical College of Wisconsin, and Ascension St. Joseph Hospital.
In a statement, Borgerding said, “While such investments of time, energy and emotion are impossible to quantify, the financial contributions Wisconsin hospitals and health systems made in their communities in the form of charity care, subsidized health services, community health improvement services and other forms of meaningful giving totaled nearly $1.9 billion.”
“In order to help people live well, we don’t stop just at providing the immediate care needed by patients but work to connect them with primary and preventive care to help them live well,” LeeAnn Betz said. “This has led us to develop partnerships with Federally Qualified Health Centers and Free Clinics like the Bread of Healing Clinic.”
Betz is the external communications manager for the brand, consumer experience and public affairs at Advocate Aurora Health.
Bread of Healing operates clinics out of three locations on Milwaukee’s North Side, including Cross Lutheran Church, Eastbrook, and Florist Clinic at Traveler’s Rest Ministries.
The three clinics provide medical care and behavioral health services for uninsured adults. Advocate Aurora Health has partnered with the Bread of Healing Clinic since it opened 21 years ago to serve people experiencing financial or other barriers to health care.
Borgerding discussed how hospitals have come together to replace the county behavioral health hospital and ED mental health emergency hospital as an example of joint efforts.
The new Mental Health Emergency Center is targeted to open early 2022. The center will divert people experiencing mental health crises from waiting endlessly in emergency rooms and police custody. This is a joint venture between Milwaukee County, Advocate Aurora Health, Ascension Wisconsin, Froedtert Health and Children’s Wisconsin.
“The list is so long on what hospitals are doing from providing free care clinics, preventive care, immunizations for influenza, health and nutrition, health education, sponsoring community events,” Borgerding said. “They really have become critical in our community and that’s not even factoring in COVID.”.
Borgerding pointed out that hospital workers have always been providing care for patients but now they are simultaneously providing the majority of COVID vaccinations, testing and doing everything they can to be on the front lines of the war against COVID.
“You can see the stress and toll it’s taking in our hospitals,” Borgerding said. “Heart attacks don’t stop because of COVID, car accidents don’t stop because of COVID, strokes don’t stop because of COVID. Those things don’t stop, they continue just like always. Then you layer that on top of COVID. It’s a massive undertaking all across Wisconsin.”
Lack of health insurance is a major problem in the United States. People without insurance risk having chronic medical illnesses.
“We want all people to live well,” Betz said. “We know that individuals without health insurance may delay seeking care when they are ill or injured and are at an increased risk for hospitalization due to chronic conditions such as diabetes or hypertension.”
In 2019-2021, the percentage of residents who reported they delayed medical care due to cost was 14.7%, a decrease from 17.6% in 2010-2012.
“Financial assistance or charity care provides free or discounted services to patients with limited means who qualify as part of the hospital’s financial assistance policy,” Betz said.
“I think there’s always going to be people without insurance. In Wisconsin we cover everyone in this state up to 100% of the federal poverty level in the Medicaid program. Even within that eligibility range, I think there are 70,000 people that are not yet enrolled and are presumably uninsured,” Borgerding said.
Wisconsin has the eighth lowest percentage of uninsured residents in the nation.
“This is something that the state tries to address through robust enrollment efforts, it’s something that hospitals devote a lot of time and energy to helping people to find insurance,” Borgerding said.