Rusk County buys local clinic amid regional health care closures

Ahead of Prevea clinic closures, Rusk County is buying Ladysmith location to allow local providers, staff to continue operations

Doctor's office
Morgan (CC-BY)

As a network of clinics and hospitals prepare to close in western Wisconsin, Rusk County leaders have decided to purchase a primary care clinic in Ladysmith to keep the doors open.

The Rusk County Board of Supervisors decided earlier this month to pay $1.6 million for the Prevea Health primary clinic building, with the contingency that they could lease the building to a provider. The tentative closing date for the sale is April 19.

The clinic in Ladysmith is one of 15 Prevea primary and specialty care clinics that are closing starting April 13 as Prevea and Hospital Sisters Health System exit western Wisconsin.

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Ashley Heath, Rusk County’s administrative coordinator, said the health systems’ announcement at the end of January was a shock to the community. She said the two doctors that work out of the Ladysmith clinic approached the county shortly after the announcement about finding a way to ensure the clinic remained open.

“We knew that the (county) board didn’t necessarily want to be a landlord,” Heath said. “But at this time, it was the best option to retain the providers that we have that are beloved in the community, and to also retain the services here that our residents rely on.”

At a meeting on Tuesday, the county board authorized a three-year lease agreement with OakLeaf Clinics, one of the providers that belongs to OakLeaf Medical Network. Heath said the agreement can be renewed for an additional two years and allows OakLeaf Clinics to purchase the property at any time.

County Board chair John Kalepp said he knew the county needed to try to keep the clinic operating after going out for breakfast at a local restaurant shortly after the closures were announced.

“As I sat down and ate, all I heard for conversation was the people worried about losing their medical (provider) and what they were gonna do,” Kalepp said. “I’m talking young families to elderly people. So by the time I sat there for an hour, I pretty much walked out of there with my shoulders low.”

Kalepp said keeping the clinic operating not only preserves jobs for around 30 employees, but it also maintains health care options for the community. The only other medical provider in the county is Marshfield Clinic Health System’s clinic in Ladysmith. The next closest option is more than an hour drive from the city.

OakLeaf Medical Network previously announced they hoped to buy the Prevea clinics and HSHS hospitals. The network is working with a newly-formed cooperative to establish a new independent hospital in the region.