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News » Ascension outsourcing prompts mass exodus of hospital workers

Ascension outsourcing prompts mass exodus of hospital workers

Ascension mass exodus
Photo frojm MedPage Today

CHICAGO, UNITED STATES — Ascension Illinois’ decision to outsource its hospitalist staff to a private-equity-backed firm has prompted more than 35% of those doctors and clinicians to resign. 

The mass exodus, which will affect 110 medical directors, doctors, physician assistants, nurse practitioners, and other providers across Ascension’s 10 Chicago-area hospitals, will take effect on June 1 when Atlanta-based SCP Health assumes control.

Fears of increased workloads and lower pay

The outsourcing deal raised alarm bells among healthcare professionals and industry watchdogs. Many are concerned that SCP Health’s private-equity ownership by Onex Partners will prioritize profits over patient care, leading to larger caseloads and reduced quality of care.

Under SCP Health’s proposed contracts, hospitalists would see their daily patient load increase from around 18 to as many as 30 while also facing pay cuts of $15,000 to $25,000. Critics argue that these changes could result in overworked doctors, compromised care, and potential harm to patients.

Conflicting claims on staffing and transition

Despite assurances from Ascension Illinois spokesman Timothy Nelson that a “majority” of hospitalists have committed to the transition, the looming staff shortage has many worried. 

SCP Health spokeswoman Dawn Moyer claimed that 99% of June shifts are already filled, expressing confidence in a seamless transition. However, these statements have done little to quell the growing unease among healthcare workers and industry groups.

The Chicago Medical Society, representing over 17,000 local physicians, expressed grave concerns about the deal’s impact on patient care. The Illinois Nurses Association went a step further, denouncing the move as “a private-equity scheme” that could jeopardize patient well-being if caseloads increase as planned.

Private equity’s expanding influence in healthcare 

The situation at Ascension Illinois is just one example of the growing influence of private equity in the healthcare sector. 

From 2020 to 2023, private equity firms acquired 116 healthcare staffing companies and were involved in over 60% of all clinical staffing transactions. 

Critics argue that the profit-driven practices of these firms often lead to cost-cutting measures that negatively impact patient care and drive up healthcare costs.

In March, the U.S. Department of Justice and other federal agencies launched an investigation into the potential harm caused by private equity interests in the healthcare industry. The mass departures at Ascension Illinois and SCP Health could exacerbate staff shortages, disrupt care continuity, and force hospitals to hire less experienced physicians unfamiliar with their facilities and patients.

Senator raises concerns over patient care, worker protections

Senator Chuck Grassley also raised concerns about Ascension’s outsourcing deal. In a letter to Ascension Illinois CEO Polly Davenport, Grassley questioned how the organization would maintain high standards of patient care and protect workers who raise complaints. He highlighted the potential conflict between Ascension’s mission to serve vulnerable patients and Onex’s profit-driven objectives.

As the healthcare industry grapples with the growing influence of private equity, the exodus at Ascension Illinois serves as a stark reminder of the potential risks posed by prioritizing profits over patient care. The coming weeks and months will reveal the full impact of this outsourcing move on the quality and accessibility of healthcare in the Chicago area and beyond.

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