HSHS Sacred Heart Hospital in Eau Claire plans to expand its services but must do so with increased efficiency to continue to be a major player in the regional health care sector, the leader of Hospital Sisters Health System said Wednesday.

“We need to provide higher quality at a lower cost,” Mary Starmann-Harrison, HSHS president and CEO, said one day after she was named interim president and CEO of HSHS Sacred Heart Hospital. “That is a challenge to health care providers across the U.S., not just here.”

Hospital officials announced Tuesday the dismissal of Julie Manas, who had worked as Sacred Heart president and CEO since February 2012. That move comes amid reports of financial challenges Sacred Heart faces.

Starmann-Harrison declined to comment on specific reasons for Manas’ leaving and said the move was not related to the split in recent years between HSHS and Marshfield Clinic Health System, a longtime partner of Sacred Heart and HSHS St. Joseph’s Hospital in Chippewa Falls. 

“We all agreed that there was the need for a transition in leadership,” Starmann-Harrison said of the decision of HSHS leadership to part ways with Manas. “We need to change direction a little bit and work with a different strategy going forward.”

No timeline has been set for hiring Manas’ replacement, Starmann-Harrison said, but she plans for that decision to be made “as soon as possible.” 

Manas isn’t the only HSHS administrator no longer with the organization. John Folstad, vice president of strategy and development for the HSHS Western Wisconsin division, resigned on Tuesday. He had worked for HSHS in different capacities since 1979. 

Financial pressure

In June 2016 Marshfield Clinic Health System, a longtime partner of Sacred Heart and St. Joseph’s Hospital, announced it would build a new hospital and cancer center just down the road from Sacred Heart. The cancer center opened in the fall, and the hospital is scheduled to be finished later this year.

The addition of another hospital and clinic in Eau Claire places financial pressure on an already competitive local health care market, analysts said. Sacred Heart seems to be the provider most likely to be adversely impacted by the Marshfield Clinic expansion, they said. 

Less government reimbursement for Medicaid and such services as mental health also are impacting health care providers’ bottom lines. Sacred Heart has a track record of providing significant charitable care and inpatient beds for mental health, a service that typically receives low reimbursement rates. 

In addition, Starmann-Harrison said, Sacred Heart and St. Joseph’s are treating more patients addicted to opioid drugs. She acknowledged that Sacred Heart faces financial pressures related to those issues. 

“Reimbursement in many cases is staying the same and not keeping up with costs,” she said. “In some cases, reimbursement is less.”    

 Despite those challenges, Sacred Heart and St. Joseph’s are committed to continuing to provide services and inpatient beds for mental health care patients and charitable care, Starmann-Harrison said.  

“Those are very difficult areas,” she said of costs to provide treatment for such services as mental health and drug addiction versus reimbursement. “But we continue to be committed to taking care of the less fortunate. It is part of our mission.” 


Sacred Heart and St. Joseph’s are well-positioned to not only continue to provide quality health care to Chippewa Valley residents but to expand services, Starmann-Harrison said. 

While there are many local health care providers, more physicians are needed in the Chippewa Valley, she said, and Sacred Heart and St. Joseph’s will fill that need through partnerships with Green Bay-based Prevea Health and OakLeaf Surgical Hospital in Altoona.

The HSHS hospitals also will seek to expand some existing services while starting new ones, she said. For example, the obstetrics, or women’s health department, at Sacred Heart and the cardiac services area at St. Joseph’s are undergoing renovations. 

Wednesday’s opening of a weight loss clinic at Sacred Heart, a new service, is another sign of a way those hospitals can expand services locally, Starmann-Harrison said.   

“We are committed to being here into the future,” she said. “We do see growth opportunities, and we continue to provide high-quality, patient centered care going forward.”

Contact: 715-830-5911,julian.emerson@ecpc.com