Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Columbia St. Mary's donates money to public health causes

The Business Journal of Milwaukee - 3:04 PM CDT Tuesday
by Ben Fischer

Columbia St. Mary's Inc. will give $500,000 to two city of Milwaukee public health programs, Mayor Tom Barrett announced Tuesday.

The health system, which operates hospitals on the East Side and Mequon, agreed to give the money as a charitable donation after it rebuffed talk of a payment in lieu of property taxes, Barrett said.

The one-time donation will include $320,000 toward cutting high infant-mortality rates in parts of MIlwaukee, including parts of the Riverwest neighborhood and the near south side.

That money will fund four new full-time health workers who will work with expectant mothers to improve babies' chances of surviving.

Also, $180,000 will go toward an analysis of racial disparities in health care, Barrett said.

Half of the money is coming from Ascension Health, St. Louis, the parent company of Columbia St. Mary's, according to CEO Leo Brideau.

Barrett has been asking non-profit organizations in the city, such as Columbia St. Mary's, to voluntarily donate to city coffers instead of paying property taxes, which they are excused from paying by federal law.

"We said we're not going to do it," Brideau said of Barrett's idea. "For a whole pile of reasons. It's a precedent we don't want to set. We don't think it's appropriate. On the other hand, we are in the city; we provide health care in the city, and we've got a responsibility to work with the populations we serve."

The money is a one-time donation, although Brideau said the system intends to continue giving annually if the programs are proving worthwhile.

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