Impending Wisconsin Hospital Closures Highlight Challenges of Healthcare Access in Rural Communities
The Crisis Unfolds: Wisconsin Hospital Closures
Wisconsin’s healthcare landscape is set to undergo a drastic transformation with the imminent closure of two Hospital Sisters Health System (HSHS) hospitals and regional health centers. U.S. Rep. Derrick Van Orden has voiced his concerns to Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers about the potential loss of critical healthcare services. The congressman has aggressively called for state and federal resources to enhance care access in Wisconsin.
These closures will dramatically affect the access to medical care for the local population. In response, the state is making efforts to connect the affected workers with jobs, ensure patients have uninterrupted access to care, and provide transitional healthcare access to those affected.
Wisconsin’s Healthcare Landscape: The Impact of Closures
The closures will result in layoffs across 21 facilities in the region, with 1,391 employees expected to lose their jobs. This will undoubtedly have a significant impact on healthcare access for rural residents, particularly pregnant patients, dialysis patients, cancer patients, and those requiring inpatient psychiatry beds.
These closures highlight the challenges faced by rural communities in accessing comprehensive healthcare services. The decision to close these facilities was attributed to the lingering impacts of the pandemic, inflation, workforce challenges, and other industry-wide trends.
Buying Hope: OakLeaf Medical Network Steps In
In an encouraging development, the largest independent physician network in Wisconsin, OakLeaf Medical Network, has expressed interest in purchasing some HSHS hospital properties. The aim is to create an independent community hospital and expand the number of hospital beds in the region. This initiative could potentially alleviate some of the healthcare access issues arising from the closures.
State Response to the Closures
Gov. Tony Evers has expressed frustration over the planned closures and is looking into providing aid to healthcare workers and areas affected by the closures. The governor also expressed disappointment with HSHS and Prevea Health for not providing more notice of the closures. The state’s Department of Workforce Development estimates a deficit of 20,000 nurses in the state by 2040 if remedial action is not taken.
Evers has signed an executive order to appoint a task force to study workforce challenges facing the state’s healthcare system. He also highlighted limitations on health care options for patients due to the state’s failure to pass Medicaid expansion plans.
Transitioning Care and Ensuring Continuity
The state is working on multiple fronts to mitigate the impact of these closures. Efforts are underway to ensure that patients won’t be negatively affected when transitioning their care to a new provider. The Department of Health Services is also working to address the urgent needs of patients in the Chippewa Valley. Mayo Clinic Health System in Northwest Wisconsin is increasing their capabilities to serve more patients in light of these closures.
While the situation is challenging, it is heartening to see multiple stakeholders stepping in to ensure a smooth transition and continued access to healthcare for the affected communities.