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HSHS to exit Western Wisconsin alongside Prevea Health, shutting down regional hospitals

by John R. Fischer, Senior Reporter | January 25, 2024
Business Affairs
HSHS St. Joseph's Hospital (Photo courtesy of HSHS)
In a move that is likely to create a deficit of care options, Hospital Sisters Health System (HSHS) has announced its exit from the Western Wisconsin market, saying it will shut down its hospitals in the Chippewa Valley area alongside its partner Prevea Health, which will close its facilities in the local area as well.

For over 140 years, HSHS has provided care to patients at HSHS Sacred Heart Hospital in Eau Claire and HSHS St. Joseph’s Hospital in Chippewa Falls. Facing prolonged operational and financial challenges brought on by the pandemic, inflation, workforce constraints, and local market challenges, the healthcare system has begun winding down services at both facilities and will assist patients in their search for other providers.

Founded in 1996, Prevea Health is a physician network that offers primary and specialty care and partnered with six HSHS hospitals in 2015, including Sacred Heart and St. Joseph’s, to create an integrated healthcare delivery network. It has over 80 locations in eastern and western Wisconsin but now says it will close all its sites in Chippewa Valley. All HSHS and Prevea locations outside of western Wisconsin’s Chippewa Valley region will remain open.

“We closely considered all other options and sought strategic alternatives. After an agreement with a suitable partner did not work out, it was determined that exiting the market is the only feasible path forward,” said Damond Boatwright, president and CEO of HSHS, in a statement.

The closures will leave approximately 1,082 HSHS and 325 Prevea colleagues and physicians out of work, but all will receive support services and assistance finding new jobs, including the potential to seek available positions elsewhere in the organizations.

“Together with HSHS, we are focused on ensuring continuity of care for patients as well as helping them transition their care to other area hospitals and providers,” said Dr. Ashok Rai, president and CEO of Prevea.

Limitations on revenue streams have put over 30% of all rural hospitals (over 600) at risk of closing in the U.S., according to the Center for Healthcare Quality and Payment Reform. Many have been strained by the pandemic and economic setbacks, leaving them strapped for cash and forced to rely on grants and emergency relief funds to preserve care access for patients. Back in September, Mercy One Iowa closed its Albert Lea clinic, its only site in Minnesota, attributing the decision to the pandemic, recruitment challenges, Minnesota regulations, and the need to reduce costs.

Some have also banded together to help avoid closures. In North Dakota, 23 independent critical care hospitals formed the Rough Rider High-Value Network in October, pooling their resources together to invest in specialty programs that each alone lacks the size and scale to pursue and to control rising costs.

Closures under HSHS and Prevea are expected to be completed on or before April 21, except for the Prevea residency clinics, which will close on or before June 30.

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