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Chippewa Valley clinic files court action to keep HSHS hospitals open until July

Chippewa Valley Orthopedics and Sports Medicine claims HSHS violated contract, interfered with patient care by abruptly starting hospital closure

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Exterior of St. Joseph's Hospital
HSHS St. Joseph’s Hospital in Chippewa Falls will be closed by April 21 due to “prolonged financial and operational stress”, according to the health care system. Photo courtesy of HSHS

An orthopedic clinic in the Chippewa Valley region is asking a court to force Hospital Sisters Health System, or HSHS, to delay their plan to close two local hospitals this spring.

Chippewa Valley Orthopedics and Sports Medicine filed a request for an injunction on Friday in Eau Claire County Court. 

The court filing alleges that HSHS breached their contract with Chippewa Valley Orthopedics by not providing 180 days of notice before ending their agreement.

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The hospital system announced on Jan. 22 that it will close HSHS Sacred Heart hospital in Eau Claire and HSHS St. Joseph’s Hospital in Chippewa Falls on or before April 21, shocking employees, patients and community leaders.

The injunction request contends HSHS has “already begun the process of winding down the operations of Defendant Hospitals, including terminating employees, taking down signage, and cancelling surgeries.” Chippewa Valley Orthopedics alleges those moves violate their agreement with the hospital system.

The court filing also claims that HSHS is preventing the orthopedic clinic from providing their patients with already agreed-upon surgeries and advanced imaging studies at Sacred Heart hospital, and is hampering the clinic’s ability to provide prospective patient services.

The complaint asks the court to require HSHS and the two hospitals to fulfill their agreement until the end of the 180-day notice period, which would be July 21.

It also asks the court to order HSHS to “return and maintain operations at Defendant Hospitals to at least the same level as existed before January 24” and provide the space, staff and equipment to allow the orthopedic clinic to provide patient services.

In a statement, Chippewa Valley Orthopedics Group President Dr. Austin Crow said HSHS has already removed critical medical equipment and other resources for its hospitals.

“The lights are on, but less and less is being done to care for the patients HSHS ethically must serve as HSHS actively forces cancellations at a rapid rate,” Crow said.

A spokesperson for HSHS did not immediately respond to Wisconsin Public Radio’s request for comment on Friday.

Chippewa Valley Orthopedics is a member of OakLeaf Medical Network, a physician network in western Wisconsin that announced last week it hopes to buy the two HSHS hospitals and all associated Prevea Health clinics in the region.

HSHS acknowledged it received OakLeaf’s offer to open negotiations for the facilities, but the physician network claims the hospital system has not provided any further response.

OakLeaf announced on Friday that it is moving forward with plans to create what it calls “an independent community hospital” in the Chippewa Valley.

In anticipation of the coming closures, Marshfield Clinic Health System announced on Friday that they will more than double the number of labor and delivery beds at its hospital in Eau Claire.

The medical center will expand its obstetrics unit from eight beds to 20, which could accommodate an additional 550 births each year. The health system said in a press release it is working to identify additional staffing and technology needs, as well as a timeline for operating the expanded the unit.

In a statement, hospital administrators said Marshfield Medical Center-Eau Claire is also finalizing plans for “an expected increase of patient volume, especially in emergency and urgent care.”

Nearly 1,400 hospital staff are expected to be laid off across the 21 facilities operated by HSHS and Prevea Health in western Wisconsin.

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