THU AM News: Eau Claire infusion business seeing ‘avalanche’ of patient demand linked to hospital closures; Evers ‘very disappointed’ with HSHS not warning employees ahead of closures announcement

— The co-founder of Smart Infusion Therapy Services in Eau Claire says the business is experiencing an “avalanche” of patient demand following the news that two western Wisconsin hospitals are shutting down. 

Hospital Sisters Health System last week said it will be closing HSHS Sacred Heart Hospital in Eau Claire and HSHS St. Joseph’s Hospital in Chippewa Falls, while physician network Prevea Health is also closing all of its locations in the state’s western region. The moves will impact 1,082 HSHS workers and 325 Prevea employees, according to the announcement.

Eric Haberichter, chief marketing officer and co-founder of the infusion therapy provider, yesterday said the Eau Claire clinic has been getting phone calls from worried patients as well as physicians that are being impacted by the closures. 

“Suddenly there are patients that are on biologics for things like multiple sclerosis or Crohn’s disease are finding out that their next appointment just can’t be scheduled,” Haberichter told “So [doctors] are calling us, and trying very quickly to move their patient practice, in some cases, 30, 40, 50 patients … in other cases, it’s just concerned patients and family members.” 

As a local resident, Haberichter says the community is “very deeply impacted” by the change, with many people fearing they may not have a doctor anymore. 

The infusion clinic is already seeing a significant uptick in the number of patients whose care is being transferred there, he added. Its founders have been involved in medical imaging for decades, but began providing infusion services starting in Eau Claire a little more than a year ago, according to Haberichter. 

While the business had previously been seeing a handful of patients per week, that’s expected to jump to as many as 50 per week, he said. 

“It’s a massive increase in demand for us that we always anticipated, it’s just happening in kind of an avalanche of patients that are looking for care,” he said. “We just feel very privileged that we were positioned in such a way to take on that patient volume.” 

That population ranges from young people coming in for treatments for Crohn’s disease to older patients on Medicare receiving iron therapy, he said, adding that hundreds of Medicare patients have been displaced by the closures. 

In the HSHS announcement last week, Prevea President and CEO Dr. Ashok Rai acknowledged the impact of the move on local patients. He said Prevea and HSHS are “focused on ensuring continuity of care for patients as well as helping them transition their care to other area hospitals and providers.”

HSHS did not immediately respond to a request for comment on patient care transitions yesterday. 

Meanwhile, Haberichter said the Eau Claire clinic is “as prepared as possible” to address the spike in demand, and can bring in workers from its locations in Madison and Wausau if necessary. The Eau Claire clinic has eight staff members, and 30 employees are involved in the infusion services business across the three centers. 

“The biggest obstacle that anyone in our position faces is making certain we have insurance coverage for all the patients,” he said. “Some of the larger insurance companies are very slow to adopt new providers, and that’s really our single largest struggle now, is making certain we have authorization for treatment which is going to maintain the lowest possible costs for patients.” 

— Gov. Tony Evers says he’s “very disappointed” with the way Hospital Sisters Health System abruptly announced closures of hospitals in western Wisconsin without notifying workers ahead of time. 

Speaking Tuesday during a WisPolitics luncheon in Madison, Evers said the health system “did nothing” to prepare its employees before announcing the hospital closures. 

“That’s just wrong,” he said. “I can’t believe they figured out that they’re $60 million in the hole the day before. I think they knew that, and they should have planned accordingly.” 

He said the state is working with other health care providers to ensure those workers can find a job, adding “that will be easy, there’s plenty of jobs out there.” But he argued the closures may not have happened at all if Wisconsin had expanded Medicaid.  

“Simple as that,” he said. “If Medicaid expansion was in place, some of those folks would have gotten more money through Medicare and maybe have saved their jobs.” 

Evers noted the state’s entire health care workforce is in turmoil due to a shortage of qualified workers. The guv earlier this week signed an executive order, previewed in his recent State of the State address, creating the Governor’s Task Force on the Healthcare Workforce. 

“We’re doing whatever we can to be helpful in that situation, it’s kind of ongoing conversations,” he said. “But it’s a concern.” 

Watch the video here.

Evers has signed a package of bills aimed at improving access to dental health care, including one that authorizes the licensure of dental therapists.

SB 689 will allow the therapists, similar to a physician assistant, to be able to provide preventive and restorative services. 

Proponents have argued the move would help address access issues, particularly in rural areas.

The other bills Evers signed include:

*SB 702, which provides guidelines for the $20 million oral health care workforce program created in the 2023-25 budget. It includes a provision requiring the Tech College System Board to request up to $2 million for the Northcentral Technical College in Wausau to expand its current dental hygienist and dental assistant programs.

*SB 692, which enters Wisconsin into the Dentist and Dental Hygienist Compact. That provides the option to become eligible to practice in Wisconsin and other participating states. 

*SB 706, which requires the Higher Education Aids Board to provide $350,000 annually to the Marquette University School of Dentistry to develop and run programs that support recruiting and training rural dentistry students.

*AB 62, which allows those with dental insurance coverage to assign reimbursement for services to a specific provider. That will end the need for patients to cover the cost of care when they receive the service and then await reimbursement from an insurance provider.

For more of the most relevant health care news, reports on groundbreaking research in Wisconsin, links to top stories and more, sign up today for the free daily Health Care Report from WisPolitics and

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— The state Department of Public Instruction is getting nearly $1.5 million in annual federal funding for career and technical education efforts over the next three to five years. 

The agency this week announced it’s one of 19 recipients of the Perkins Innovation and Modernization, Career Connected High Schools Grant Program under the U.S. Department of Education. It will be funded for three years with the possibility of two more years of funding, according to the release. 

DPI says it will use the grant to help public schools with “improving and modernizing” career and technical education and aligning curriculum with the needs of employers. 

See more in the release.

— Fifteen dairy businesses in the state have been chosen for Dairy Processor Grant funding from DATCP, the agency announced. 

This round of grant awards total $500,000, according to yesterday’s announcement, with individual project grants ranging up to $75,000. Recipients must match at least 20% of the grant amount. 

“Since this program began, the demand for grants has been high,” DATCP Secretary Randy Romanski said in a statement. “This year was no different, with requests totaling more than four times the available funding.” 

See details in the release.

Wisconsin DPI receives federal funds to boost career and technical education 

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