WED AM News: Rural hospitals feel financial pressure as Medicaid reimbursement uncertainty rises; Dem panel champions Biden’s plan for rural Wisconsin

— Wisconsin’s rural hospitals are feeling financial pressure as both COVID-19 in rural communities and uncertainty around Medicaid reimbursements are rising.

Most, but certainly not all, rural hospitals in the state are nearly back to pre-COVID service levels, according to Rural Wisconsin Health Cooperative Executive Director Tim Size. However, those hospitals have incurred major financial losses that still linger on the balance sheets.

“Compared to earlier in the pandemic, rural hospitals are now seeing more of the virus, which means they are spending more time and resources to keep their patients and communities safe,” Size told in an interview. 

This goes against national reporting that hospital systems are doing well — even posting profits above historic norms. According to an Axios report, HCA Healthcare, Universal Health Services and Community Health Systems all posted profits well above expectations, even after halting elective procedures at the start of the pandemic.

“On average, rural hospitals, rural communities have less access to testing, longer delays at getting testing results,” Size said. “This translates into higher use of personal protective equipment, inefficiencies in staff and a higher burn rate for equipment. I would refute the assumption things are sweet and good.”

Black River Memorial Hospital already had a shaky start to the year financially. After shutting down non-emergent elective care for about three months, the hospital’s bottom line was bleak. 

“We were fortunate, however, to apply for and receive the Paycheck Protection Program money, which we used to continue to keep our people working,” said Mary Beth White-Jacobs, CEO of Black River Memorial Hospital. “We did not do any layoffs or furloughs and used that money that we received to pay their salaries.”

Read the full story at 

— Dems highlighted former Vice President Joe Biden’s plan for new markets and revenue streams for farmers during a rural Wisconsin roundtable hosted by 3rd District Congressman Ron Kind.

Former Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, a former Iowa governor, was also a panelist at yesterday’s virtual event. He warned this could be the first time in 60 years that there is no agriculture trade surplus. He noted that in his time in office under Barack Obama, there was an up to $25 billion surplus — meaning the U.S. sold more than it bought. Right now that is below $3 billion, he said. 

“Why? Because the president took on China,” he said, referring to President Trump. “Everybody can make the case that China is a bad actor. The problem is the president went alone.”

Because the U.S. didn’t make an alliance of nations unfairly treated by China, Vilsack said China had the opportunity to retaliate with its own tariffs. He also knocked Trump for choosing big oil over farmers and mismanaging the pandemic.

“In addition to having a trade policy that makes sense and supports the renewable fuel industry, is also to figure out ways in which we can create new revenue streams for farmers,” Vilsack said. “Carbon sequestration, the ability to capture methane and convert it, the ability to take agricultural waste and use it in biobased manufacturing processes to produce chemicals… So if there is a president who does a trade war that damages one commodity, you’ve got several other ways to make money.”

Former state Ag Secretary Brad Pfaff, now running for the La Crosse-area state Senate seat, suggested Wisconsin use DATCP’s partnerships between farms and local organizations such as food banks, as a template to continue the work to shorten supply chains and expand local markets.

“These are real opportunities to provide farmers direct marketing opportunities to hospitals, as well as local schools and other institutions, in which they can see a higher revenue return,” Pfaff said. “We can take those lessons that we learned here and institute those into a way in which we continue to move forward, in which farmers feel they are assisting when communities are hurting.”

Vilsack also touted Biden’s plan for bringing American agriculture to a net zero carbon emitter — producing all the food the nation needs without contributing greenhouse gases — noting rural American is central to that role in mitigating climate change and bridging the urban-rural divide.

“I like to say you can sequester a lot more carbon in Brooklyn, Iowa than you can Brooklyn, New York,” he said. “There is a substantial amount of land where farmers, if they are incentivized in the right way, can create a tremendous storage capacity for carbon, offsetting other industries, creating new revenue streams for farmers.”

Vilsack noted that dairy farms in Wisconsin and the U.S. are some of the only dairy farms in the world that have reduced their greenhouse gas emissions over the last 10 years, but said “there’s still more work to do.”

“American agriculture is ready for this; they want to be part of the solution; they just need a partner in the federal government and foundations and others who are concerned about climate creating those revenue streams that will encourage far more conservation,” he said. “What is not to like about that plan? It is a plan that speaks to Republicans, Democrats and Independents. It’s a plan that unifies us over an issue that sometimes divides us.”

Panelists state Sen. Patty Schachtner, D-Somerset, Kriss Marion, who’s running against Rep. Todd Novak, R-Dodgeville, and Theron Rutyna, IT director at Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, also touched on the critical need for broadband infrastructure investment that’s highlighted in Biden’s plan for rural schools, hospitals and businesses.

— A more virtual world during the pandemic benefited organizations such as the 5 Lakes Institute that works with partners to build and connect the high technology entrepreneurial economy and culture in the Midwest region.

“(COVID-19) has actually been good for our efforts,” Kathleen Gallagher, executive director of the 5 Lakes Institute told an Axios Milwaukee economic recovery webinar. She noted a specific program, Scout Camp, where tech transfer offices, venture capital arms of universities and investors come together. This year it had to be done virtually.

“It’s been really good because we do it virtually,” she said. “What that allowed us to do is bring in a lot more investors, and it was easier for universities to get on this virtual call. There are 40 million people in California — that’s about five states here — if we’re going to compete with California,much less the rest of the world, we need to pull together in a great way to do it in this region, because of the enormous geography, is to do it virtually.”

Gallagher also said that innovation and interesting projects are the key to keeping talent in the Midwest. 

“The reason (young people) are leaving is because they have interesting projects to work on on coast,” she said. “We supply a lot of the brains that keep the coasts running and a lot of the materials. What we need to do is coalesce that more here — and figure out more paths to disruptive commercialization.”

Meanwhile, Gallagher said one challenge 5 Lakes Institute is facing is helping the private sector leverage public resources, such as the leading research universities in the region. She noted several hurdles from negotiating with university researchers. 

“What a lot of the tech companies on the coasts have done is they figured out the way around (negotiating) is to hire the technology professors at the university as consultants,” she said. “That’s easier for tech companies on the coast that have big profit margins. We need to figure out a solution for our companies here, too.”

— Also in the Axios event, Green Bay Packers CEO Mark Murphy said Titletown Tech and the team’s partnership with Microsoft will help make sure the team stays in Green Bay — and that the city can support an NFL team. 

The Titletown mixed-use development is a 45 acres adjacent to Lambeau Field. It is a bright light for the dismal economic view that the pandemic brought to Green Bay.

“As I look to the future, that could be the biggest impact we make on this community,” Murphy said. “I’m really excited about our partnership with Microsoft. It’s a venture capital front, we’ve already invested in over 20 startup companies, it’s still kind of early, but we think that some are really going to do great things, almost all of them have connections to Wisconsin, they’re going to stay here. Our hope is that we’re going to find the next Google or Epic… and have a company that really takes off and helps the local Green Bay economy.”

One of the businesses helped is Strive Orthopedics, a telemedicine company.b Murphy said it will thrive during and after the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Packers are playing their first two home games without fans. Green Bay’s home, Brown County, has been deemed a hotspot in Wisconsin throughout the pandemic.  

“The last thing you want to do is contribute to a super spreader event,” Murphy said. “We do realize that Packers home games are huge for our local economy, but the health and safety is the first priority.”

— Daytime highs in the upper 80s helped dry soils this week and made conditions suitable for haying and combining small grains 5.7 days the week ending Aug. 16, according to the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service. 

Precipitation interrupted fieldwork briefly in some areas, but several reports noted rain is needed to stimulate crop development and pasture growth. 

Corn was 97 percent silked, over four weeks ahead of last year and eight days ahead of the five-year average. Corn at dough stage was 63 percent, 16 days ahead of last year and six days ahead of the average; and conditions rated 84 percent good to excellent statewide, three percentage points above last week. 

Soybeans blooming was 96 percent, over four weeks ahead of last year and eight days ahead of the average. Eighty-three percent of soybeans had set pods and condition rated 85 percent good to excellent, two percentage points above last week. 

Oats harvest was 72 percent complete, 15 days ahead of last year and five days ahead of the average. 

Potato harvest was reported as 20 percent complete, 17 days ahead of last year and four days ahead of the average. Potato conditions rated 98 percent good to excellent, up eight percentage points from last week. 

Winter wheat harvested for grain was 94 percent complete, nine days ahead of last year and two days ahead of the average.

Third cutting of alfalfa was reported as 72 percent complete, 11 days ahead of last year and equal to the average. All hay conditions rated 81 percent good to excellent statewide, up three percentage points from last week. Pasture condition rated 68 percent good to excellent statewide, unchanged from the week before. 

— Kohl’s stores around the country operated with 25 percent fewer days than last year and with limited hours since safely reopening, CEO Michelle Gass told store executives in a conference call.

While discussing the second quarter financial report yesterday, Gass said in-person sales have decreased throughout the summer months due to concerns from rising COVID-19 cases, but digital sales have remained high for the company. During the second quarter, nearly 50 percent of Kohl’s sales took place online. 

Jill Timm, CFO of Kohl’s, said the organization was able to end the second quarter with $2.4 billion in cash, an increase from last quarter’s $2 billion. 

Timm said Kohl’s was able to strengthen its position despite difficulties caused by COVID-19 by reducing inventory by 26 percent, tightly managing expenses and lowering capital expenditures. Timm said overall, the company’s adjusted net loss was $39 million dollars. 

Both Gass and Timm mentioned uncertainties surrounding consumer behavior as this year’s holiday season will look different than most. The duo noted Kohl’s plans on closing for Thanksgiving Day to allow its associates to spend more time with family. 

Gass said Kohl’s is continuously working on adapting to changing economic circumstances including planning conservatively and chasing consumer demand will be key in maintaining Kohl’s finances through the year’s end.

“As we look ahead, we are planning for the crisis to continue to impact our business in the near-term,” she said. “We are well-positioned to capitalize on evolving customer behaviors and the retail industry disruption, which we believe will drive long-term growth and increased market share.”

— Wisconsin’s seven-day average of daily confirmed cases dropped to 721 from 734 after the state reported 634 new COVID-19 cases.

The state received a total of 9,991 tests, bringing the daily percentage of positive tests per total tests down to 6.3 percent from 7.2 percent. 

While the seven-day average of daily cases has been trending down since late July, the seven-day average for percent positive tests has been trending up since early June at 7.7 percent. 

The new cases bring the cumulative case count to 66,830, with 57,382 recovered. Meanwhile, 1.6 percent of patients have died and 8.1 percent have been hospitalized.

Click here for a list of community testing sites: 

— COVID-19 hospitalizations number 365, down 49 patients from a week ago, according to the Wisconsin Hospital Association’s coronavirus data dashboard.

COVID-19 ICU patients number 125, up five patients from Aug. 11. That’s the most ICU patients since June 5.

About 61 percent of Wisconsin’s total COVID-19 patients — 223 — are in southeastern Wisconsin. The association also reports 42 or fewer patients in each of the six other public health regions of the state.

Health care workers account for about 8 percent of confirmed COVID-19 cases at 5,499, an increase of 394 cases in seven days, according to DHS. 

DHS told yesterday evening that there are a total of two confirmed cases who died whose occupation is included as a health care worker. This is a correction of three deaths that DHS reported in late June. Meanwhile, the occupation is unknown or missing for 415 of 1,052 confirmed cases who died.

See the WHA hospital dashboard here: 

— The state’s death toll climbed by 13 and now is at 1,052.

Lincoln County reported its first death yesterday.

Counties reporting deaths include: Milwaukee (472), Racine (83), Waukesha (66), Kenosha (60), Brown (55), Dane (39), Rock (26), Walworth (25), Washington (24), Winnebago (19), Ozaukee (18), Grant (16), Waupaca (16), Outagamie (15), Marathon (12), Clark (8), Fond du Lac (8), Sheboygan (8), Jefferson (6), St. Croix (6), Dodge (5), Marinette (5), Eau Claire (4), Forest (4), Pierce (4) and Richland (4).

Barron, Door and Sauk counties report three deaths each. Adams, Buffalo, Calumet, Columbia, Kewaunee, Monroe, Polk, Taylor, Trempealeau and Wood counties report two deaths each.

Ashland, Bayfield, Burnett, Green, Iron, Jackson, Juneau, La Crosse, Langlade, Lincoln, Manitowoc, Marquette, Oconto, Rusk and Waushara counties report one death each.

The Badger State is doing better than its neighbors at 18 deaths per 100,000 residents according to the CDC. Michigan is at 66 deaths per 100,000 residents, followed by Illinois (63), Iowa (29) and Minnesota (31). 

Click here for more coronavirus resources and updates: 


# In A Challenging Tourism Season, Wisconsin Dells Workers Try To Stay Safe

# Overlapping Natural Disasters Could Become More Common

# Milwaukee largely left out of virtual DNC program 

# City of Chicago removes Wisconsin from quarantine list



– More small farms sign up for Wisconsin’s direct payment relief 

– Pandemic highlights shortfalls within DMC 

– RFA CEO says Trump missed an opportunity while campaigning in “the heart of ethanol country” 

– Packing Industry Still Working Through Backlog 


– People May Be Moving Less – But Bugs Keep Going 


– Sitzberger acquires West Bend-based public accounting firm 


– Tech investor Kevin Hartz joins Spac boom with new investment vehicle 


– Briggs & Stratton is heading to auction after court approves bid process, financing 

– Steelworkers approve contract with proposed Briggs & Stratton buyer 


– Wisconsin clerks worry about November election as mail-in ballot requests grow

– Wisconsin plan to close youth prisons hits more snags as some counties pull back

– Eric Trump Speaks To Police Association In Milwaukee On Day 2 Of DNC 

– As Postal Service Backtracks On Changes, Wisconsin Politicians Disagree On Path Forward 


– 350-unit apartment tower planned in Wauwatosa 


– Kohl’s plans for early start to holiday demand 

– Kohl’s primed to gain market share from competitors’ store closures. Here’s how. 


– Milwaukee Bucks’ new Fiserv Forum-based food business could open locations elsewhere 


– Stung by Covid-19, Navy Pier to close in September until spring 

– How Much Wisconsin Is There In The Officially Milwaukee-Based DNC? 


– Milwaukee streetcar dons a mask under city partnership urging face coverings 


<i>See these and other press releases: </i>

– UW-Madison: School of Education unveils bold new program to invest in Wisconsin’s future teachers 

– American Bridge 21st Century: Statement on U.S. Postal Service non-announcement 

– MobCraft Beer: Announces 2020 Virtual Weird Fest