Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service

Ascension St. Joe’s Won’t Sign Agreement

Still tension between hospital and area residents over potential cuts in service.

By , Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service - Oct 22nd, 2019 12:56 pm
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Members of the St. Joe’s Accountability Coalition Markasa Tucker (from left), Rick Banks, Nate Gilliam and Melody McCurtis present the results of the groups’s community survey. Photo by Andrea Waxman/NNS.

Members of the St. Joe’s Accountability Coalition Markasa Tucker (from left), Rick Banks, Nate Gilliam and Melody McCurtis present the results of the groups’s community survey. Photo by Andrea Waxman/NNS.

Here are four things to know about what’s happening at Ascension St. Joseph Hospital.

1. St. Joseph Accountability Coalition releases results from community survey.

The coalition surveyed almost 600 people from June 18 to Sept. 18 and found residents top concerns included an urgent care center in the St. Joe’s service area, healthcare without racial bias and more mental health, chemical dependency and wraparound services.

The coalition had set a goal of getting 1,000 respondents.

The most important community relations initiative that St. Joseph could pursue, according to 49.8% of respondents, is to “listen to, engage with, and respect community voices.”

2. Tensions between some community members and Ascension Wisconsin leadership continue.

The coalition asked Ascension’s Reggie Newson, chief advocacy officer; Nicole Gladney, director of community services; and Kevin Kluesner, chief administrative officer, to come to a town hall-style meeting last month to hear the survey results. Ascension was not invited to present information.

Newson, Gladney and Kluesner could have engaged with attendees after the presentation, coalition member Markasa Tucker said.

Newson said he and his colleagues declined to attend because they interpreted the invitation to mean they would not be permitted to speak at all.

He said over the last 18 months, Ascension has surveyed and listened to hundreds of residents and community organizations in structured conversations. Ascension has never asked coalition members not to speak at a meeting, he said.

3. What’s happening with coalition’s request for Ascension to sign a Community Benefits Agreement. 

The coalition has asked Ascension to commit to negotiating a Community Benefits Agreement for the future of St. Joe’s.

In a statement, an Ascension spokesperson responded:

“Community Benefits Agreements are between community groups and real estate developers. They identify a range of community benefits the developer agrees to provide as part of the development project in cases where the developer is seeking the community’s support of the project and may receive tax incentives or public funding to subsidize the project. These types of agreements do not apply to health systems.”

4. Ascension says it’s responding to community concerns.

Newson said Ascension St. Joseph is listening to the coalition and recently started providing many of the services the community is asking for.

He gave examples:

  • The opening of a new midwifery clinic with two staff midwives
  • A national Ascension maternal health initiative that is set to begin
  • The opening this month of a heart and vascular center that will focus on prevention and treatment services
  • The completion of a full-day design charrette process for campus improvements, including ideas about potential affordable housing and other social determinants of health

This story was originally published by Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service, where you can find other stories reporting on fifteen city neighborhoods in Milwaukee.

One thought on “Ascension St. Joe’s Won’t Sign Agreement”

  1. frank a schneiger says:

    Why is it that this piece brings to mind the famous line from the film “Cool Hand Luke,” that line being “What we have here is failure to communicate.” In this case, that failure results in the two entities, the institution and the community group, seeming to talk past one another when the composite of their two action lists makes up a solid basis for building a better future for these communities.

    While this process is pretty far down the road, here are some assumptions that it would be worth the hospital and the coalition stepping back, testing and seeking agreement on:

    1) An acute care hospital on this site is not in the community’s future. That decision has been made, and the train has left the station.
    2) Possibly the most important assumption: an acute care hospital may not be what these communities most need. Instead, in looking at this facility, it is worth thinking about it as a platform for all of components needed to build a healthy and peaceful community. In this context, “health” is defined broadly to include not only medical, behavioral health and dental services, but a range of others, social, environmental, rehabilitation, and supportive and group-specific housing, that are the essential components of a healthy community.
    3) Many of the pieces for placing St. Joseph’s squarely within the Healthy Communities Movement are contained in St. Joseph’s and the Coalition’s combined lists. And those things that can be added are all based on proven models of success in communities similar to Milwaukee’s north and northwest sides. For example, a small percentage of the population in similar communities, sometimes as low as 1%, accounts for as much as 30% of health care costs, a number that may be low when you factor in the dollar and social costs of violence. Acute care hospitals represent failure to serve these groups and to keep them healthy. Also, proven models of reducing violence and achieving peaceful communities are all driven by what are seen as “soft” services, as opposed to heavier policing. St. Joseph’s can be the centerpiece for all of these initiatives. In this sense, there is also a fundamental related assumption that, in addition to healthier and happier communities, investing in this strategy will result in substantial cost savings over the status quo.
    4) Big institutions, like Ascension, have clear financial priorities and are typically not very good at listening and learning, and community groups tend to overplay what is essentially a weak hand, the result being missed opportunities to do something really important and transformational for the community. There has to be a basic assumption of good faith on all sides to achieve the minimum levels of trust needed to get from A to B. In this case, once again, a “B” that can be far better than having an acute care hospital. Threats and demands won’t work, and negative trips down memory lane aren’t very helpful. The drivers to success in a situation like this are a shared operational vision of a far better future and solid commitments and action plans to achieve that vision. It is all doable.

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