Milwaukee, WI: Healthcare workers at Saint Francis Hospital in blast unsafe conditions, corporate greed

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MILWAUKEE, Wisconsin — On November 10, the Wisconsin Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals — AFT Local 5000 — held a press conference to draw attention to unsafe working conditions in hospitals in the context of what public health experts are calling a tridemic — the Flu , COVID-19 and RSV this winter season.

The focus was on Ascension, the second largest healthcare company in the US. WFNHP represents workers at Ascension Hospital Saint Francis, where workers have been involved in several disputes with management that have escalated over the past year, particularly over staffing issues.

Jamie Lucas, Executive Director of WHNHP, said, “Ascension has been characterized as ‘essentially a hedge fund that also happens to own and operate hospitals’ because of its involvement and investments in Wall Street and other for-profit ventures. They’re just one of the many large nonprofits that are now “more like Fortune 500 companies than the charities they were often founded to be.” Understanding their immense wealth is critical as we examine how they run our hospital and interact with our community.”

Ascension is pouring its record profits into CEO and administrative salaries while services are being scaled back and facilities are understaffed, leaving staff and patients suffering the consequences.

“We are concerned that essential care is being delayed due to this staffing crisis that workplace health management has caused by under-hiring or replacing staff when they quit. At Saint Francis, we reduced our bed capacity so medical professionals couldn’t accommodate patients in our hospital, and then management says there aren’t enough patients to justify hiring staff. They basically get stuck in a cycle, cut services and then say we don’t have enough “productivity” to justify bringing us back to full capacity, much like when politicians devalue our schools and social services and then say that they are not running efficiently as justification to further cut benefits.”

Alan Chavoya shared his personal experiences as a patient at Saint Francis and how events at the hospital are affecting the surrounding community. “When greedy companies like Ascension Healthcare prioritize profit above all else, there are a number of dire consequences for healthcare workers and the patients they care for.”

Chavoya continued, “Ascension Healthcare takes its people for granted. You revise them. You don’t support them. They ignore the terrible conditions their policies and practices have created and they accept no responsibility. Ascension Healthcare only cares about their profits. These are the healthcare workers who have risked their lives to care for the people of Milwaukee during the COVID-19 pandemic. Instead of being treated like the heroes they are, Ascension Healthcare abuses them. So I say shame on Ascension Healthcare.”

Healthcare is one of the largest industries, and companies are continually consolidating their power and profits by creating larger and larger healthcare systems. Hospital administrators simply view patients as numbers in their mission to achieve greater productivity and profits in order to supplement their own salaries while cutting frontline staff. Ascension is one of the worst offenders, as their CEO earns about $13 million in annual compensation, according to the latest public records.

The patients really are the ones who suffer as they are in an incredibly vulnerable position during admission to the hospital. Healthcare workers fail to understand how these companies can put their profit and greed ahead of the needs of their patients and those who care for them.

The gap between workers and the patients they care for and the greedy CEOs and administrators will continue to widen. Healthcare workers need to organize and fight for the future of the industry and the health and safety of patients.

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