Bruce Murphy
Murphy’s Law

The Vast Wealth of Ascension Health

Huge executive salaries, billions in cash and investments, yet cutting services at hospitals.

By - Jan 11th, 2023 04:30 pm
Ascension SE Wisconsin Hospital–St. Joseph Campus in Milwaukee. File photo by Coburn Dukehart / Wisconsin Watch.

Ascension SE Wisconsin Hospital–St. Joseph Campus in Milwaukee. File photo by Coburn Dukehart / Wisconsin Watch.

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.

“We told administrators that this will be devastating for the community and patients we serve, to which they flippantly replied that patients can go to Columbia St. Mary’s or St. Joseph’s,” an op ed by the nurses serving the hospital noted. “This leaves many patients with a much longer time driving or to rely on public transportation to get the care they need.”

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.

Big payouts to retired executives seem common. In the year ending in June 2020, beside the more than $7.2 million paid to Impicciche, a former officer Patricia Maryland was paid nearly $16.4 million and Vallier collected nearly $2.9 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.

Much of that money has been made by operating like for-profit conglomerate, building an empire of hospitals and ruthlessly trimming expenses and cutting staff, as the Times story reported: “At one point, executives boasted to their peers about how they had slashed $500 million from the chain’s labor costs…In Michigan alone late last year, the chain had 1,100 nursing vacancies. The head of an Ascension hospital in Baltimore last year blamed staffing shortages for the emergency room being dangerously overcrowded.”

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.

Under Sherry, Ascension has pushed to close its surgical and medical units and discontinue other services at St. Joseph’s Hospital at 50th and Chambers, but has faced stiff community opposition. As for patients who were losing medical care, Sherry said they will still have “ample” access to other hospitals in the city, including Columbia St. Mary’s Milwaukee, Froedtert Hospital and Aurora Sinai Medical Center.

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.”

When asked about these statements and others by the union, Ascension Wisconsin declined to respond specifically, but sent Urban Milwaukee a statement saying the closing of birthing services was “due to a combination of a loss of our obstetrical providers and low birthing volumes” caused by a declining birth rate.

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.

Categories: Health, Murphy's Law, Weekly

9 thoughts on “Murphy’s Law: The Vast Wealth of Ascension Health”

  1. GodzillakingMKE says:

    Acension upper management will let you die and suck you dry of cash with predatory billing to make themselves richer.

    Wheaton Fransiscan was so much better. We left Acension because they were so greedy.

    I really hope that their practices are investigated by Josh Kaul.

  2. GodzillakingMKE says:

    Bernard is as just as much as a liar as Trump. Rich and out of touch millionaire..

  3. kaygeeret says:

    They need to be stripped of their not-for-profit status immediately.

    Bunch of thieves and grifters with blood on their hands.

  4. Polaris says:

    What Would Jesus Do?

  5. jerrianneh says:

    How can these money making machines operate as largely tax-exempt “nonprofit” healthcare providers? Obscene!

  6. gerrybroderick says:

    Kaygeeret nailed it.

  7. Neal Brenard says:

    Not disagreeing with the general thrust of this article, but I wonder what is the appropriate, most efficient, and accessible distribution of health care facilities. UWM is now tearing down the old Columbia Hospital buildings. Others have come and gone over the past century since more modern hospitals were common here. All of these changes against the background of the soaring costs of health care and medications in general. But before you can criticize what health care providers filch in profits from their positions of power within these organizations, and a market more-or-less under their control, it seems like someone should have a better proposal to replace them. What is the best distribution of birthing services, as either ambulatory surgical centers or departments within full hospitals? Is it necessary to have one no less than three miles from where anyone lives? Is four miles okay? Why not five miles? Ascension surely doesn’t care about the answers to these questions. No one seems to ask them anyway and our political system is almost entirely dysfunctional here in Wisconsin under Republican control in Madison. And hey. What about Vets? Any vet not living somewhere close to the baseball stadium has a fairly long drive to get to the VA hospital to get services. No one seems to care much about that problem.

  8. larsona42 says:

    Actually, the solution is quite simple, Capitalism should never be anywhere near health care, whatever sheep’s clothing it decides to wear. We all know capitalism when we see it, like obscenity, even when it’s labeled “nonprofit.” For shame.

  9. ringo muldano says:

    catholic capitalists pick and choose their bible verses. when once their christ got a straw filled crib, so you shouldn’t be too disappointed. then they killed that guy too.

Leave a Reply

You must be an Urban Milwaukee member to leave a comment. Membership, which includes a host of perks, including an ad-free website, tickets to marquee events like Summerfest, the Wisconsin State Fair and the Florentine Opera, a better photo browser and access to members-only, behind-the-scenes tours, starts at $9/month. Learn more.

Join now and cancel anytime.

If you are an existing member, sign-in to leave a comment.

Have questions? Need to report an error? Contact Us