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Western Wisconsin providers press for funding as Evers, GOP lawmakers wrangle over plan 

Western Wisconsin providers press for funding as Evers, GOP lawmakers wrangle over plan 

As Gov. Tony Evers and Republican lawmakers wrangle over how to spend $15 million allocated by the Legislature to aid healthcare access in western Wisconsin, area providers say the funding would provide a significant boost to their efforts to increase capacity.

“It certainly would make it easier if the funds were available,” Dr. Richard Helmers, regional vice president for Mayo Clinic Health System in northwest Wisconsin, said at a Wisconsin Health News virtual event on Tuesday.

Mayo and Marshfield Clinic Health System are bracing for an influx of patients after Hospital Sisters Health System shutters its hospitals in Eau Claire and Chippewa Falls on Friday. Nineteen Prevea Health clinics are also closing in the coming months.

Republican lawmakers objected to Evers vetoing parts of their plan and introducing his own proposal, which expands the measure’s focus beyond hospital-emergency-room-focused capital projects in Eau Claire and Chippewa counties to include other parts of western Wisconsin and other services.

Marshfield has expanded urgent care services and is working to more than double labor and delivery beds at its Eau Claire hospital.

Interim CEO Dr.  Brian Hoerneman said that the funding would allow them to add more emergency department beds, but there are “many needs” at their facilities.

“It’s really a good start,” he said. “It doesn’t address all the issues, of course.”

Helmers said the impact of the hospital shutdowns goes beyond the emergency room.

“The emergency room certainly is impacted,” he said. “But other areas have been impacted as well.”

Mike Sanders, lead advisor for the Chippewa Valley Health Cooperative, a group of business and community leaders who are exploring the feasibility of opening a new hospital in the region, said that needs are broader than the emergency department.

“There are gaps already in place, and more after next week, that we think we can address,” he said.

Sen. Jesse James, R-Altoona, who authored the Republican plan, said that constituents and public safety officials, especially in Chippewa County, are deeply concerned about the loss of emergency services.

“This is going to be devastating,” he said.

James also supported a Democratic amendment to expand eligible services for the funding and wants to work with providers and stakeholders on their needs.

But, he hasn’t yet seen any concrete ideas of what they want.

“That’s part of the problem,” he said. “If we can see a plan, and we can get it shared amongst our Republican colleagues, especially on the Joint Finance Committee, and say ‘Hey, this is something that we can definitely support back at home’ …. then we can go in and have discussions with (JFC Co-Chair Rep. Mark) Born, R-Beaver Dam, and (Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester) and say, ‘Let’s get this out. This makes sense for our area.’”

This article first appeared in the Wisconsin Health News daily email newsletter. Sign up for your free trial here.


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