'The need isn't going away': 1 year since closure of labor and delivery unit at Ascension St. Francis Hospital

NOW: ’The need isn’t going away’: 1 year since closure of labor and delivery unit at Ascension St. Francis Hospital

MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- Saturday will mark one year since Ascension St. Francis Hospital on Milwaukee’s south side decided to shut down its labor and delivery services.

The controversial closure sparked much debate about health care, especially in Black and brown communities.

According to the hospital's union, in the past year, more than 500 women have come to the hospital looking for prenatal care, a service the hospital said they still offer. But they no longer offer labor and delivery.

"They have a need in that community, they have a high birth rate in that community, so we should be bringing back the services to where the people need it," said Diannia Merriett, health equity organizer with Milwaukee Inner City Congregations Allied for Hope.

Merritt said the past year has been an uphill battle, fighting for change in Milwaukee's health care system.

"It's very upsetting to know that we could provide services and have access for community members right in their own neighborhoods, and now they don’t have that," said Merritt.

Merritt is still upset over the closure of Ascension St. Francis hospital's delivery and labor unit in an area she says it was needed the most.

Ascension St. Francis Hospital shut down its labor and delivery services just before Christmas last year.

The medical facility cited the loss of providers and low birthing rates.

A spokesperson from Ascension Wisconsin sent CBS 58 this statement, which reads in part:

"The clinical decision to consolidate labor and delivery services in Milwaukee was made following a thoughtful discernment process with our clinical and medical leaders, and it has been beneficial for both our patients and care teams over the last year."

However, advocates said the south side of Milwaukee continues to see an incline in babies being born.

"The need isn’t going away, the fastest birthing ZIP code in the city is served by that hospital," said Jamie Lucas, executive director of the Wisconsin Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals.

Lucas went on to say he wished the hospital would do more to provide an easier method for moms looking to give birth at the hospital.

"You can't move the needle and improve things by yanking services out of these communities and further isolating Black and brown who deserve more," said Lucas.

Advocates called on city leaders to protect clinics throughout Milwaukee County.

"Reach out to Children's and ask them how can we reopen the services, reach out to Ascension and say what can we do to reopen this labor and delivery unit where we need it, and really talk about what health care is supposed to be about," said Merritt.

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