The health of a community depends on fair health insurance practices

The health of a community is measured by the health of its individual members, and the health of its members depends on their access to local, high-quality medical care. Health coverage is a key indicator of the health and wellness of an individual. When people have health insurance, they have greater access to care, reduced mortality, and better health outcomes, according to a report from the American Hospital Association.

However, the current approach taken by some of the nation’s largest health insurers, or payers, is putting this at jeopardy as payers focus on profits and quarterly earnings, strip rates and put the long-term viability of health systems at risk. With hospitals in the middle of the worst economic performance in decades, it is time for payers to own up to how their actions negatively impact the communities and those they claim to serve.

As a physician and the chief of population health at a large metro-area health system, Northeast Georgia Health System, my patients’ ability to readily access medical care at our facilities — and have that care be covered by insurance — matters greatly. Any disruption in a patient’s experience, such as restricting access to care by their health plan or going out of network with an insurance company, can wreak havoc on population health. It’s no secret that many health systems across the country have felt the weight of increased administrative and contractual burdens from health insurers as denial rates continue to creep upwards.

Health insurance companies, like the nation’s largest, UnitedHealthcare, have seen profits soar in recent years. UnitedHeatlhcare’s profits were up 28 percent during the third quarter of 2022 – achieving a profit of $5.3 billion in just those three months – before closing the year at $28.4 billion in net earnings in 2023. Elevance (formerly Anthem), Cigna, and Aetna have also posted record profits recently.

We have seen the impact of the pressure payers are putting on hospitals across the country. Nearly 200 hospitals have closed since 2005, according to the Sheps Center for Health Services Research at the University of North Carolina. Many of these hospitals have closed because they failed to receive fair contracted rates from large payers and thus were insolvent.

Community benefits like charity care, health education and economic impact are provided by hundreds of hospitals nationally, but that impact is at risk if they are not fairly compensated for the services they provide.

Nonprofit hospitals lifted by $28B in tax exemptions: KFF

Tax exemptions for nonprofit hospitals amounted to $27.6 billion in value for 2020, according to new data from the Kaiser Family Foundation

Federal tax exemptions in 2020 made up $14.5 billion and state and local tax-exemptions amounted to $13.2 billion. Combined, the $27.6 billion represents 43 percent of net income earned by nonprofit hospitals in 2020, the foundation found.

Nonprofit hospitals may see renewed or heightened scrutiny of their tax-exempt status due in part to how much the value of tax-exemption has grown in recent years. The foundation’s analysis shows the value of tax exemption grew from about $20 billion in 2011 to about $27.6 billion in 2020 — a 41 percent increase.

“The rising value of tax exemption means that federal, state, and local governments have been forgoing increasing amounts of revenue over time to provide tax benefits to nonprofit hospitals, crowding out other uses of those funds,” KFF analysts wrote. “This has raised questions about whether nonprofit facilities provide sufficient benefit to their communities to justify this tax benefit.”

The $27.6 billion in estimated value of tax exemption exceeded nonprofit hospitals’ total estimated charity care costs of $16 billion in 2020, although KFF points out that charity care makes up one portion of nonprofit hospitals’ community benefits.

2020 was a standout year with the largest single-year increase — $4 billion — to the value of nonprofit hospitals’ tax-exemption. KFF analysts note that while COVID-19 caused disruptions that lowered net income from patient care, government relief funds and increased charitable contributions and investment income “more than offset those losses” and increased net income increased the value of not having to pay federal and state income taxes.  

“Even when setting aside the strong financial performance of nonprofit hospitals in 2020 as a potential outlier, total net income among nonprofit facilities increased from $19.4 billion in 2011 to $47.0 billion in 2019, a 143 percent increase, before jumping to $64.5 billion in 2020,” the analysts wrote. “Although we are not able to directly observe the value of the real estate owned by hospitals, the estimated value of exemption from local property taxes — which is based on our analysis of property taxes paid by for-profit hospitals — increased by 29 percent from 2011 to 2019. Finally, the supply expenses in our analysis increased by 44 percent and charitable contributions increased by 49 percent from 2011 to 2019.”

Melinda Hatton, general counsel for the the American Hospital Association, shared the following statement with Becker’s in response to the KFF analysis: 

“A more comprehensive report by the international firm EY has consistently found that the value of hospitals’ federal tax exemption was far outstripped by the community benefits provided. In the most recent analysis, the value was 9 to 1: for every one dollar in tax exemption hospitals provided nine dollars of community benefit. 

A narrow reading of community benefit limited to financial assistance misses the important work hospitals do to close the pervasive gaps between federal reimbursements for care and the actual cost of care as well as the many other benefits hospitals provide directly to their communities. Whether it is public health activities, such as clinics and testing, training for the next generation of caregivers or efforts to prevent illness, including wellness education or more hand-on efforts to improve living conditions, hospitals continually give back to the communities they serve.”

Purported Medicare profits spark criticism of North Carolina hospitals’ charity care spending

Drawing on a report published by the North Carolina State Health Plan for Teachers and State Employees, a recent Kaiser Health News article shines a light on the lack of transparency in financial reporting of not-for-profit hospitals’ community benefit obligations.

The report claims many North Carolina hospitals—including the state’s largest system, Atrium Health—show profits on Medicare patients in their cost report filings, while at the same time claiming sizable unrecouped losses on Medicare patients as a part of their overall community benefit analyses.

The Gist: These kind of reporting discrepancies draw attention to the controversial issue of whether not-for-profit hospitals provide sufficient community benefit to compensate for their tax-exempt status, which was worth nearly $2 billion in 2020 for North Carolina hospitals alone. 

Greater transparency around charity care, community benefit, and losses sustained from public payers could go a long way toward shoring up stakeholder support for not-for-profit institutions at a time when their political goodwill has deteriorated. Hospitals should be proactive on this front, as political leaders increasingly train their sites on high hospital spending in the current tight economic environment. 

Large health systems accused of valuing “profits over patients.”

In an explosive two-part series published late last month, New York Times reporters Jessica Silver-Greenberg and Katie Thomas cast a spotlight on the revenue collection tactics used by two of the nation’s largest not-for-profit health systems, Renton, WA-based Providence and Cincinnati-based Bon Secours Mercy Health.

The articles detail how Providence leveraged help from consulting firm McKinsey & Company to collect sums as small as $2 from patients pressured to pay anything they could for their care, even if many were actually eligible for free care under state law. Bon Secours was scrutinized for conduct in its Richmond, VA market, where it was portrayed as leveraging safety-net facility Richmond Community Hospital for its 340B license, while stripping out essential services needed by the surrounding lower-income community.

Both health systems have responded to the Times investigation, Providence by refunding payments collected from hundreds of low-income patients, saying they were charged due to an “unintended error,” and Bon Secours by claiming the allegations in the article were “baseless” and stating that it has invested millions into its Richmond Community Hospital.    

The Gist: Providence and Bon Secours Mercy Health are far from the only health systems accused of pursuing patient collections though any means available, which makes these articles especially worrisome to many system executives: the tactics deployed by the two systems are relatively common across the industry.

Given current margin pressures, health systems are already beginning to double down on aggressive revenue cycle management. But as most are also not-for-profit organizations who anchor their missions in providing community benefit, their tactics must also pass muster when judged in the court of public opinion. 

Large nonprofit health systems in the spotlight again for not providing enough charity care

A recent Wall Street Journal analysis, published this week, provides further evidence that large, nonprofit health systems often offer less charity care than their for-profit peers. It found that, on average, nonprofit systems spent 2.3 percent of their net patient revenue on financial aid for patients, whereas for-profit hospitals spent 3.4 percent.

The American Hospital Association criticized the analysis, arguing that it doesn’t fully capture the broader community benefits that nonprofit hospitals provide. Earlier this year the Lown Institute, a Boston-based think tank, also found that most nonprofit hospitals invest less in their communities and spend less on charity care than the amount they receive from tax exemptions.

The Gist: The issue of whether hospital systems should continue to enjoy tax-exempt status is a perennial stalking horse in the health policy community. The topic often gets conflated with whether nonprofit systems are truly “nonprofit”, since many larger systems make robust profits. 

There’s no question that nonprofit systems enjoy a huge economic advantage from not being subject to taxation, in return for which we should expect them to provide “community benefit” at a level commensurate with the status.

The difficulty is in defining and measuring community benefit— for example, should serving Medicaid patients count? Is it fair to count discounts for the uninsured as “charity care”, if we know prices are artificially inflated in the first place? These are thorny questions with no obvious answers, but ones that would benefit from clearer guidance and more transparency from policymakers.

Questions resurface about nonprofit hospitals’ tax-exempt status

A report from The Lown Institute, a Boston-based think tank, finds that many health systems—227 of the 275 evaluated—spend less on providing “community benefit” than the value of their tax exemptions. The American Hospital Association (AHA) criticized the report’s methodology, claiming it “cherry-picks categories of community investment.” This report builds on previous analyses that have found that, taken together, nonprofit hospitals spend less on charity care than government or for-profit hospitals.      

The Gist: Policymakers and academics, prompted by massive capital projects, high executive salaries, and—especially—aggressive pricing and billing strategies, are increasingly questioning whether nonprofit health systems provide sufficient community benefit to retain their tax-exempt status. A recent piece in Health Affairs suggests updating the community benefit standard, which the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) uses to evaluate nonprofit status, to focus on social determinants of health and measurable health outcomes. 

We’d expect tougher scrutiny on this topic in the future, especially if state budgets come under pressure from a deterioration in the broader economy.

The next wave of healthcare consolidation

Might health care consolidation be slowing and if so, why and what might it  mean? A perspective on where we are, how we got here and what is next. —  CASTLING PARTNERS

With many deals delayed by the pandemic, 2020 turned out to be slower than anticipated for hospital mergers and acquisitions. But we’d expect the pace of mergers to quicken this year as health systems emerge from the winter COVID surge. The calculus centers on both strategy and security.

Having weathered the pandemic better than expected, many larger systems approach the market as opportunists, looking expand their reach and capabilities. And systems of all sizes are seeking scale to enable better access to capital and greater risk mitigation—now viewed as essential should they once again face a pandemic-sized shock.

As systems contemplate new combinations, they would be wise to learn from the high-profile combinations that fell apart last year. In our experience, many mergers are felled by the “social” issues: board seat allocation, leadership structures, or cultural mismatches. These types of challenges appeared to be behind the stalling of Advocate Aurora Health’s merger with Beaumont Health (which faced pushback from doctors and community stakeholders) and the demise of the combination of Intermountain Healthcare and Sanford Health (called off amid leadership turnover). 

Any successful merger must not only present the financial rationale for partnership, but also make a clear case as to how a combined system will bring new capabilities that will improve care, access and experience for local consumers.

Expect scrutiny on deals to rise in the Biden administration with the likely confirmation of Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary nominee Xavier Becerra, who took a strict antitrust posture in reviewing hospital mergers and contracting during his tenure as California’s attorney general.

California AG conditionally approves $350M sale of nonprofit to Prime Healthcare

Prime Healthcare, CEO Prem Reddy settle false-claims suit for $65M

Prime will acquire St. Francis for a net of $350 million, with a $200 million base cash price and $60 million for accounts receivable.

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra has conditionally approved Verity Health’s application to transfer ownership of St. Francis Medical Center to Prime Healthcare. The Attorney General’s decision follows an earlier decision by the U.S. Bankruptcy Court of the Central District of California granting Verity’s request to reject the existing collective bargaining agreements which impose legacy cost structures that it said contributed to bankruptcy.

Becerra noted that his approval of the sale of St. Francis to Prime Healthcare “protect(s) access to care for the Los Angeles communities served” by St. Francis.

“The COVID-19 public health crisis has brought home the importance of having access to lifesaving hospital care nearby in our communities,” he said. “St. Francis Medical Center is not just an asset, it is an indispensable neighbor, it is the workers who serve the patients, and the doctors who save lives. We conditionally approve this sale to keep it that way.”

Prime Healthcare has built a reputation for saving financially distressed hospitals across the U.S., touting improved clinical quality. Healthgrades said Prime had hospitals named among the nation’s 100 best 53 times, and has been the recipient of several Patient Safety Excellence Awards.

The Attorney General’s office conducted an exhaustive review of the transaction for the past several months and carefully considered public input on the proposed transaction. The Attorney General’s approval includes conditions for the sale which Prime is currently reviewing. Pending a final ruling by the Bankruptcy Court, the transaction is expected to be completed this summer.


In early April, the U.S. Bankruptcy Court approved the Asset Purchase Agreement for the sale of St. Francis Medical Center to Prime. Under the agreement, Prime will acquire St. Francis for a net consideration of over $350 million, including a $200 million base cash price and $60 million for accounts receivable. In addition, Prime has committed to invest $47 million in capital improvements and extend offers of employment to nearly all staff.

The court also recently granted Verity’s request to reject the existing collective bargaining agreements with two unions that represent associates at St. Francis Medical Center, SEIU and UNAC. The court noted that Prime Healthcare was the only party to submit a qualifying bid for St. Francis and that without rejecting the existing CBAs, “St. Francis would not continue to operate as a going concern, and all of the UNAC (and SEIU) represented employees would lose their jobs.”

The court also noted that Prime and Verity had made multiple efforts to negotiate in good faith with the unions, and the parties devoted “hundreds of hours to negotiations,” but ultimately were unable to agree on new CBAs. Further, the court determined that one of the reasons for the hospital’s bankruptcy was the “legacy cost structure imposed by the existing CBAs.”

It then staid that the proposals were rejected “without good cause” by the unions. Prime said it negotiated in good faith and proposed increasingly generous offers to UNAC and SEIU with wages far above its existing agreements at its Los Angeles-area hospitals. Prime’s latest offer to SEIU maintained existing wages for roughly 90% of SEIU members, and increased wages for some of them. Prime said these wages would be substantially higher than those recently voted by SEIU members at three of Prime’s Los Angeles hospitals.


“Receiving conditional approval is an important step in ensuring Prime is able to preserve the St. Francis mission for the benefit of associates, members of the medical staff and most importantly the patients and Southeast Los Angeles community that has relied on St. Francis for 75 years,” said Rich Adcock, CEO of Verity Health.

“We are honored to be selected to continue the St. Francis legacy and are working to review the conditions and finalize the sale as quickly as possible,” said Dr. Sunny Bhatia, CEO, Region I and chief medical officer of Prime Healthcare. “St. Francis’ mission is especially critical during this pandemic and we honor the service of all caregivers. Prime has already started investments at St. Francis that will enhance patient care as we commit to continue every service line, community benefit program, charity care and expand new services to the community.”




Why Are Nonprofit Hospitals So Highly Profitable?


These institutions receive tax exemptions for community benefits that often don’t really exist.

“So, how much money do you guys make if I do that test you’re ordering for me?” This is a question I hear frequently from my patients, and it’s often followed by some variant of, “I thought hospitals were supposed to be nonprofit.”

Patients are understandably confused. They see hospitals consolidating and creating vast medical empires with sophisticated marketing campaigns and sleek digs that resemble luxury hotels. And then there was the headline-grabbing nugget from a Health Affairs study that seven of the 10 most profitable hospitals in America are nonprofit hospitals.

Hospitals fall into three financial categories. Two are easy to understand: There are fully private hospitals that mostly function like any other business, responsible to shareholders and investors. And there are public hospitals, which are owned by state or local governments and have obligations to care for underserved populations. And then there are “private nonprofit” hospitals, which include more than half of our hospitals.

Nearly all of the nation’s most prestigious hospitals are nonprofits. These are the medical meccas that come to mind when we think of the best of American medicine — Mayo Clinic, Cleveland Clinic, Johns Hopkins, Mass General.

The nonprofit label comes from the fact that they are exempt from federal and local taxes in exchange for providing a certain amount of “community benefit.”

Nonprofit hospitals have their origins in the charity hospitals of the early 1900s, but over the last century they’ve gradually shifted from that model. Now their explosive growth has many questioning how we define “nonprofit” and what sort of responsibility these hospitals have to the communities that provide this financial dispensation.

It’s time to rethink the concept of nonprofit hospitals. Tax exemption is a gift provided by the community and should be treated as such. Hospitals’ community benefit should be defined more explicitly in terms of tangible medical benefits for local residents.

It actually isn’t much of a surprise that nonprofit hospitals are often more profitable than for-profit hospitals. If a private business doesn’t have to pay taxes, its expenses will be lower. Additionally, because nonprofit hospitals are defined as charitable institutions, they can benefit from tax-free contributions from donors and tax-free bonds for capital projects, things that for-profit hospitals cannot take advantage of.

The real question surrounding nonprofit hospitals is whether the benefits to the community equal what taxpayers donate to these hospitals in the form of tax-exempt status.

On paper, the average value of community benefits for all nonprofits about equals the value of the tax exemption, but there is tremendous variation among individual hospitals, with many falling short. There is also intense disagreement about how those community benefits are calculated and whether they actually serve the community in question.

Charity medical care is what most people think of when it comes to a community benefit, and before 1969 that was the legal requirement for hospitals to qualify for tax-exempt status. In that year, the tax code was changed to allow for a wide range of expenses to qualify as community benefits. Charitable care became optional and it was left up to the hospitals to decide how to pay back that debt. Hospitals could even declare that accepting Medicaid insurance was a community benefit and write off the difference between the Medicaid payment and their own calculations of cost.

An analysis by Politico found that since the full Affordable Care Act coverage expansion, which brought millions more paying customers into the field, revenue in the top seven nonprofit hospitals (as ranked by U.S. News & World Report) increased by 15 percent, while charity care — the most tangible aspect of community benefit — decreased by 35 percent.

Communities are often conflicted about the nonprofit hospitals in their midst. Many of these institutions are enormous employers — sometimes the largest employer in town — but the economic benefits do not always trickle down to the immediate neighborhoods. It is not unusual to see a stark contrast between these gleaming campuses and the disadvantaged neighborhoods that surround them.

In some communities, nonprofit hospitals are beloved institutions with a history of caring for generations of families. In other communities, the sums of money devoted to lavish expansions, aggressive advertising and eye-popping executive compensation are a source of irritation.

The average chief executive’s package at nonprofit hospitals is worth $3.5 million annually. (According to I.R.S. regulations, “No part of their net earnings is allowed to inure to the benefit of any private shareholder or individual.”) From 2005 to 2015, average chief executive compensation in nonprofit hospitals increased by 93 percent. Over that same period, pediatricians saw a 15 percent salary increase. Nurses got 3 percent.

A number of communities that think nonprofit hospitals take more than they give back have started to sue. The University of Pittsburgh Medical Center fought off one lawsuit from the city’s mayor to revoke its tax-exempt status. Last year it faced another from the Pennsylvania attorney general, alleging that the medical center, valued at $20 billion, did not fulfill “its obligation as a public charity” (the lawsuit was dismissed).

Morristown Hospital in New Jersey lost most of its property-tax exemption because it was found to be behaving as a for-profit institution. The judge in the case wrote that if all nonprofit hospitals operated like this, then “modern nonprofit hospitals are essentially legal fictions.”

It’s important to recognize the extreme variance in hospitals’ financial status. Many nonprofit hospitals, especially in rural areas, struggle mightily; scores of rural hospitals have closed — and hundreds more are teetering — leading to spikes in local death rates. At the other end are hospitals that earn several thousand dollars in profit per patient.

The most profitable nonprofit hospitals tend to be part of huge health care systems. Consolidations are one of the driving forces behind the towering profits, because monopoly hospitals are known to charge more than nonmonopoly hospitals.

Should these highly profitable institutions be exempt from the taxes that pay for local roads, police services, fire protection and 911 services? Should local residents have to pay for the garbage collection for institutions that can afford multimillion-dollar salaries for top executives?

Tax exemption needs to be redefined. Low-impact projects such as community health fairs that function more like marketing shouldn’t be allowed as part of the calculation. Nor should things that primarily benefit the institution, like staff training.

Additionally, hospitals should not be allowed to declare Medicaid “losses” as a community benefit. While it’s true that Medicaid typically pays less than private insurance companies, Medicaid plays a crucial role for private insurance markets by acting as a high-risk pool for patients with severe illness and disability. Hospitals benefit mightily from this taxpayer-funded arrangement. These large medical centers also enthusiastically accept taxpayer money for research, something that burnishes their image and bolsters their rankings. That enthusiasm needs to be mandated to extend toward Medicaid patients and the face value of their insurance.

The I.R.S. states that charitable hospitals “must be organized and operated exclusively for specific tax-exempt purposes.” Thus charitable care should be front and center. Spending on social determinants of health can also be a legitimate community benefit, but the community that is footing the tax break needs to have a forceful say in how this money is spent, rather than leave it solely up to the hospital.

As many policy scholars have noted, tax exemption is a blunt instrument. For struggling hospitals, particularly in communities with a shortage of health care resources, tax exemption can make sense. In medically saturated areas, where profits and executive compensation approach Wall Street levels, tax exemption should raise eyebrows.

If society decides that tax exemption is a worthwhile means to improve health — and it certainly can be — then our regulations need to be far stricter and more explicitly tied to community health. As the United States continues to fall behind its international peers in terms of health outcomes in local communities, there is certainly no lack of opportunity.




Trust issues plague the relationship between Ascension St. Joe’s and the community it serves

Image result for ascension st joseph hospital milwaukee

Three empty chairs at a community meeting epitomized the mistrust between the leaders of Ascension Wisconsin and the St. Joe’s Accountability Coalition.

The coalition, composed primarily of community leaders from Milwaukee’s north side, invited Ascension Wisconsin to that Oct. 1 meeting to press the health system to sign a legal contract binding it to a list of commitments. The commitments included keeping Ascension St. Joseph hospital open and providing an urgent care clinic, affordable housing assistance, local hiring, more employee training and living wages for all employees.

Ascension didn’t show.

For one, Ascension Wisconsin officials said they were told they would not be allowed to speak at the event. For another, they said signing a contract was unnecessary because they have promised to keep the hospital open, already hire locally and provide employee training.

The hospital, which employs about 800 people, is one of the neighborhood’s largest employers.

The coalition wants the hospital to sign a community benefits agreement, known as a CBA, which is a contract between community groups and real estate developers or government entities.

Reggie Newson, Ascension Wisconsin’s vice president of government and community services, said the health system is proving its commitment to the community by expanding and adding services to St. Joseph.

For example, two certified nurse-midwives were just hired for the hospital’s new midwifery clinic and a third is being recruited. The hospital is also planning to hire a cardiac nurse practitioner and cardiologist.

But members of the coalition aren’t convinced, because they say there is no legal penalty if Ascension fails to follow through on its promises.

Nate Gilliam, an organizer with the Wisconsin Federation of Nurses & Health Professionals, advisory board member of the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute and coalition spokesman, said the coalition just wants accountability.

“It’s good that they’re saying all these great things on paper and to the media,” he said. “But if they are going to do that, they shouldn’t have a problem with signing a CBA.”

Future bright despite history of mistrust, Ascension says

The lack of trust between the coalition and Ascension Wisconsin started 18 months ago, when hospital administrators — citing losses of roughly $30 million a year — proposed cutting some of Ascension St. Joseph’s surgical and medical units and other services, such as cardiology support.

The hospital, at 5000 W. Chambers St., serves a majority African American population on the city’s north side, an area facing steep socioeconomic disadvantages. Decades of limited access to health care have contributed to higher rates of chronic disease. Higher rates of poverty means many residents rely on Medicaid for health insurance.

Residents interpreted Ascension’s proposal as a precursor to closing the hospital and — in an area where transportation is scarce — feared they would have to go farther for health care.

The proposal was criticized by Mayor Tom Barrett, several aldermen and community leaders, including George Hinton, CEO of the Social Development Commission and former president of Aurora Sinai Medical Center, who wrote an op-ed in opposition.

Ascension dropped the proposal.

But that was 18 months ago.

Since then, Newson said the hospital surveyed more than 1,000 people by telephone and held five community listening sessions. The information was used to develop priorities for the hospital and corresponding programs, such as the midwifery program and heart and vascular community care center.

Similarly, members of the coalition conducted their own survey, knocking on hundreds of doors and collecting 584 detailed responses.

When surveyed on non-clinical services, over 40% of residents said housing assistance, local hiring and living wages were their top priorities. From the coalition’s survey on clinical services, 61.6% said access to urgent care was most important to them.

Kevin Kluesner, Ascension St. Joseph’s chief administrative officer, said he and others are well aware of the health disparities and disadvantages within the community they serve.

He said Ascension Wisconsin’s push to expand services is proof the hospital isn’t going anywhere.

That commitment is despite the hospital’s having lost roughly $150 million since the 2012 fiscal year. In the 2018 fiscal year, the most recent for which information is available, Ascension St. Joseph lost $31.6 million.

By comparison, Froedtert Hospital reported $134 million in profits for the 2018 fiscal year, according to information filed with the Wisconsin Hospital Association. Aurora St. Luke’s Medical Center reported $166 million in profits in 2018.

Gilliam said that since the hospital is a non-profit venture, lost profits shouldn’t matter. He also said that Ascension Wisconsin has more profitable locations across the state, that can offset the losses at St. Joseph.

Coalition wants accountability

The results from the coalition’s survey mirrored what residents at the Oct. 1 community meeting described.

Charles Hawkins said he likes his primary care physicians, but said they keep leaving.

Another resident who lives blocks away from the hospital, Arkesia Jackson, said when her brother-in-law experienced a flare-up of his COPD, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, she was thankful a community hospital was nearby.

“He ran inside the emergency and collapsed, car running,” she said. “He is a patient at St. Joe’s. They had all his records, they knew who he was, they knew what he was suffering from.”

Newson said the goal is to provide consistent, quality care for all patients.

Gilliam acknowledged that details of what the coalition is asking for, such as racially equitable health care and helping with housing assistance, are somewhat vague. However, that’s because its members said they want to sit down with Ascension and hammer out an agreement — as long as Ascension commits to signing one.

Coalition members argue that other hospitals have worked with community groups on similar initiatives.

Robert Silverman, a professor in the Department of Urban and Regional Planning at the University of Buffalo, said there are some rare examples of CBAs being used in the health care field.

For example, Yale University signed a CBA with the Community Organized for Responsible Development group in 2006 regarding the construction of a new cancer center.

It still remains unlikely that Ascension, a national organization, would willingly set such a precedent for its hospitals.

Gilliam said he thinks it’s important for hospitals to be accountable to the community.

“I don’t see why they see a community benefits agreement as adversarial off the top,” Gilliam said. “Whenever they’re ready to come to the table in earnest, we’ll be there. That’s it.”

But with the addition and expansion of several new programs, Kluesner said he’s not sure what else hospital officials can do to prove they are serious about being a reliable anchor institution on the city’s north side.

“We’ve signed 11 new providers. That’s the best proof we could give of our commitment to growing services here at St. Joseph. If people are wondering what are we doing at Ascension St. Joseph, I think that actions speak louder than words,” he said.