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The Lakeland Times | Minocqua, Wisc.

Jim Tait 02/01-02/28/17

home : opinions : opinions August 17, 2017

6/13/2017 7:29:00 AM
Ascension has worked hard to educate community leaders
By Sandra Anderson and Debra Standridge
Howard Young Health Care and Ascension Wisconsin

This week, we expect members of the Oneida County Planning and Development Committee to make an important decision about the availability of health care services for local residents.

Howard Young Medical Center, part of Ascension, has served the region for decades, always committed to meeting the healthcare needs of the community. We are grateful for the many letters and emails sent to community leaders as well as the many voices shared in public meetings and throughout the community to support the hospital's position.

Marshfield Clinic's application for a 12-bed limited-service hospital could have serious and negative consequences on the future of healthcare in northern Wisconsin. Ascension has worked hard to educate the community about what's at stake.

The delivery of health care has continued to become increasingly complex and does not respond to market dynamics like most retail or service industry businesses do. While competition may improve services and lower costs in some industries, in health care, a proposed second hospital could have the opposite effect.

Two hospitals would increase the demand for highly skilled healthcare professionals. This would drive up employment costs and potentially divide the labor force to a point where neither organization would have adequate staffing to meet community needs. And as profitable services are stripped away by a limited services hospital like the one Marshfield Clinic proposes, Howard Young's ability to provide services to those unable to pay for care will be compromised. At the same time, the limited services hospital will not be able to serve as a safety-net/full-service hospital, which will reduce access to care for those most in need.

Another reason for Ascension's opposition is the uniqueness of Marshfield Clinic employing virtually all of the admitting physicians at Howard Young. If they open their own facility, we could no longer depend on them to provide hospital-based care at Howard Young. And while some have said we should just go hire our own doctors, the reality is it takes a long time to recruit primary and specialty care physicians. Being a more remote, northern Wisconsin community further complicates this reality.

Without a growing population, the number of patients coming for care would not be great enough to support duplicate medical staffs or give specialists enough patients to keep up their skills and levels of interest. At best, a second hospital divides existing patient volumes and at worst, causes a loss of services that will reduce access to care in the community.

One additional point: a second hospital would cause Howard Young Medical Center to lose its Medicare Sole Community Hospital status, resulting in the loss of up to $3 million per year in subsidies to support rural healthcare. Building a second facility will eliminate this federal funding for our community.

Finally, it is important to recognize this is not just a simple "land use" decision, where the hospital has no standing to voice its opposition, as some have suggested.

The Wisconsin Supreme Court just reconfirmed this in its May 31, 2017, decision in AllEnergy Corporation v. Trempealeau County Environment & Land Use Committee. The Court decided that zoning standards call on county officials to ensure that any land use will not be detrimental to the public health, safety and general welfare of the community.

In this recent case, the Court concluded that comments at the public hearing offered substantial evidence to support the Committee's denial of the Conditional Use Permit (CUP) application. The Court observed there is no presumption that conditional use benefits public interest and that a CUP may be denied if it does not support the general welfare of the community.

Furthermore, it is the responsibility of the applicant to prove their proposal will not have a negative impact on the community. So far, no such proof has been put forward by Marshfield Clinic.

It is for these reasons Ascension has worked so hard to educate our community leaders and every citizen to understand the full impact of the decision that will soon be made. It is a decision that will set the course of healthcare in northern Wisconsin for generations to come.

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