WASHINGTON — Sen. Tammy Baldwin on Monday blasted Ascension for service cuts at hospitals in Wisconsin and questioned whether returns from the Catholic health system’s for-profit investments are actually being used to help patients.
Baldwin wrote a letter addressed to Ascension that cites STAT reporting about the extent of Ascension’s more than $1 billion in private equity investments alongside TowerBrook Capital Partners, including Ascension’s relationship with debt collection company R1 RCM.
“Ascension has significant for-profit investment activities that dwarf what the system provides in annual charity care. According to Ascension, these investments are ‘generating capital gains that can be re-invested to support Ascension’s Mission to care for those who are poor and vulnerable,’ yet there is no indication that the proceeds of Ascension’s investment funds are being reinvested in Ascension’s Wisconsin hospitals,” the letter states.
Baldwin, a Wisconsin Democrat, requested further information about Ascension’s investment activities, including a comprehensive list of Ascension’s investments, an accounting of investment returns used to provide charity care, information about R1 RCM’s relationship with the system, a list of all fees that Ascension charged the Wisconsin hospitals, and compensation details for Ascension Capital executives Anthony Speranzo and Anthony Tersigni.
The letter was prompted by Ascension’s decision to close a maternity ward at Ascension St. Francis on the south side of Milwaukee, and by long wait times at another facility. As a not-for-profit facility that is tax-exempt, the system has requirements to provide charitable benefits instead of focusing decision-making entirely on the system’s bottom line, Baldwin wrote. Ascension had previously threatened to cut back services at a different Milwaukee hospital in 2018, but reversed course after public outcry.
Baldwin highlighted additional STAT reporting about how Ascension’s CFO Elizabeth Foshage had touted the system’s $18 billion in cash and investments at the J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference last month.
“This number raises questions about why Ascension, a mission-driven health system with non-profit status, is not prioritizing reinvestment into serving vulnerable communities and its own operations — which should include increasing pay and improving working conditions for its burned out and overextended health care workforce,” the letter says.
Baldwin also criticized the aggressive nature of Ascension’s investment portfolio, noting that Ascension’s investments lost the system more than $700 million in the most recent available financial quarter.