The Vast Wealth of Ascension Health
Huge executive salaries, billions in cash and investments, yet cutting services at hospitals.
Just how wealthy is Ascension Health? Very, but it is difficult to say with precision because it is spread across so many organizations.
On December 20, the huge organization announced it would shut down its labor and delivery unit at St. Francis Hospital, leaving the entire South Side of the city without such services.
South Side Common Council members lamented the negative impact on the health of residents in their districts and state Sen. Chris Larson condemned Ascension, calling it “a profit machine that punishes the sick and rewards the greedy.”
Ascension operates facilities at more than 2,600 sites in 20 states and the District of Columbia with 229 total hospitals, 170 urgent care centers and 50 senior living facilities. Its most recent federal 990 tax form, for the year ending in June 2021, shows it had total net assets of $53 million, including $31.8 million in investments, and had a net income of profit of $8.7 million for that year. Its CEO Joseph Impicciche was paid more than $13 million in compensation and retiring executive Herbert Vallier more than $7.6 million. Two other executives earned well more than $3 million.
But that’s only the beginning of Ascension’s money. As a story by the New York Times found, it has $18 billion in cash reserves and in addition, runs an investment company that manages more than $41 billion. It is run by Anthony Tersigni, Ascension’s previous chief executive, who is paid $11 million to oversee the company.
Tersigni has long been the biggest money maker at Ascension Health. As Urban Milwaukee reported in 2018, he earned $13.9 million in compensation in 2015, $17.5 million in 2014 and $14.3 million in 2013 as Ascension’s President and CEO. His 2014 compensation topped that of every other executive at 100,000 nonprofits in the nation.
In addition, Ascension’s chief financial officer and five executive vice presidents all earned anywhere from $2.8 million to $8.3 million that year. All told the seven men in Ascension’s executive office earned $40.7 million in 2015 and $41.8 million in 2014.
But Ascension also benefits from operating as a nonprofit, the third largest “not-for profit” health system in the country. That gives it tax exempt status, meaning its operations are subsidized by taxpayers, saving it more than $1 billion a year in federal, state and local taxes, according to the Lown Institute, a health care think tank.
Ascension is the largest Catholic hospital system in the world and promotes itself as a champion of the poor. “Rooted in the loving ministry of Jesus as healer, we commit ourselves to serving all persons with special attention to those who are poor and vulnerable,” its mission statement reads. “Our Catholic health ministry is dedicated to spiritually centered, holistic care which sustains and improves the health of individuals and communities.”
To emphasize that mission, Bernard J. Sherry, the head of Ascension Wisconsin, has the title of “Ministry Market Executive.” But the most recent federal tax form for Ascension Wisconsin shows he is getting rich, with more than $2 million in annual compensation.
Except that Columbia St. Mary’s is 5.6 miles away, Froedtert 4.6 miles away and Aurora Sinai Medical Center 4.1 miles from St. Joseph. That’s a long way for the many low-income families in the area who lack a car.
Now Sherry and Ascension Wisconsin are making the same argument while cutting services at St. Francis Hospital. Jamie Lucas, executive director of the Wisconsin Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals, said the loss of the hospital’s labor and delivery unit would worsen health equity in the city, which already has “one of the worst maternal death rates in the country,” as the Wisconisin Examiner reported.
Lucas and other union members sent a statement to Urban Milwaukee charging that “Ascension has been cutting services and funding for years for the hospital,” and “about $100,000 was raised by individuals for the Special Care Nursery, but that money was never put into the unit.”
But the union charged that it was “Ascension’s divestment” in St. Francis that “created an environment that took a unit that delivered between 100-150 babies a month to having one in house provider.”
“As recently as this fall,” the union noted, “we were told two OB physicians who wanted to work at St. Francis and help rebuild the program were offered significantly less to take the position than what they made elsewhere. This was by design; through attrition, Ascension created this environment.”
Ascension offered no response to these charges.