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Milwaukee rally to save labor and delivery department at St. Francis Hospital

By Ryan Hamann |
December 22, 2022
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Workers from St. Francis Hospital march with community supporters to save the La
Workers from St. Francis Hospital march with community supporters to save the Labor & Delivery department. (Fight Back! News/staff)

Milwaukee, WI - More than 60 workers and union members from Ascension St. Francis Hospital (SFH), together with community supporters, gathered outside Milwaukee’s city hall on the evening of December 20. The event was called for by the Wisconsin Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals (WFNHP) Local 5000, the union which represents nurses and technical and service employees at the hospital. The purpose for the rally was to raise awareness around the services being cut at the hospital, specifically management’s decision to close down the labor and delivery department.

This closure isn’t only significant because of the jobs being lost, but because it is the only unit of its kind on Milwaukee’s South Side, home to many working Chicano/Mexicano families. The next nearest labor and delivery department is at least five miles away. A significant number of families who are served by SFH speak English as a second language (or don’t speak English at all) and don’t have cars, meaning they’ll be forced to attempt to navigate public transit, or get an Uber or Lyft, in the event of an emergency related to a pregnancy. With harsh winter weather right around the corner, having to travel all the way across the city versus having a facility in the community will undoubtedly adversely affect these families.

“Shame on you, Ascension,” said Connie Smith, president of WFNHP 5000 and also the president of the tech and service bargaining unit at SFH. “Bring back our services. Save our labor and delivery department. Save St. Francis.”

Alan Chavoya of the Milwaukee Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression provided Spanish translation of the speeches. The rally received coverage from a handful of local media outlets and received support from a slew of local community organizations.

Tracey Schwerdtfeger, president of the nurses bargaining unit at SFH, read a prepared statement written by a worker from the labor and delivery department. “This is not a new problem. This is not an unavoidable emergency that no one saw coming. This is not related to COVID. This is not related to travel nurses. This is about profits over patients.”

The comments had to be read rather than delivered by the worker themselves because the severance package being offered by Ascension would likely be put in jeopardy otherwise. A handful of the workers and providers had been at SFH for more than a decade.

Schwerdtfeger continued her reading of the statement: “Ascension has once again made their poor planning our community’s emergency. It’s a similar story to St Joe’s just a few years ago. A hospital integral to the community, delivering care to an underserved population - the very populations that allow Ascension to claim their non-profit status. Giving them the tax breaks they so desperately want, but without allocating necessary resources to deliver the quality of care that every patient deserves. Those tax breaks allow Ascension corporate leaders to clear six, seven, eight-figure salaries, while claiming they don’t have the money to safely staff and run a hospital.”

After the comments, attendees got heated up with a spirited march around City Hall. Marchers held signs that read “Happy holidays from Ascension,” “When we fight, we win” and “Patients over profit,” and chanted things like “What will moms and babies do? Ascension, Ascension, shame on you” and “When workers and families are under attack, what do we do? Stand up, fight back!”

The rally came after three days of call-in actions to demand the closure be reversed. These actions targeted hospital administrator Jonathon Matuszewski and Chief Nursing Officer Jill Berg, both of whom had a hand in the decision to close the department. A third call-in targeted Milwaukee Mayor Cavalier Johnson, demanding that the city take action to prevent the termination of this vital service on the South Side. Additional actions are being planned to maintain the pressure on hospital administration to reopen the unit.

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