Tuesday July 16, 2024

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Is Your Healthcare Access at Risk?

Posted by Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, Senator District 31 (D - Eau Claire)
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on Wednesday, 27 March 2024
in Wisconsin

healthcare-family-drSenator Smith explores the HSHS closure and what it means for preventing other large-scale health system closures in Wisconsin.


EAU CLAIRE - We were hit hard in west central Wisconsin with the announcement that Hospital Sisters Health System (HSHS) would permanently close Sacred Heart Hospital in Eau Claire, St. Joseph’s Hospital in Chippewa Falls and all of its Prevea Clinics throughout the region. The announcement happened on January 22nd and the final closing happened March 22nd already. The original 90 day plan quickly turned into 60 days leaving over 40,000 patients with fewer healthcare options.

While we continue brainstorming for how to plug holes left behind by HSHS, we should also consider how the system failed us all.

Many people who contacted me wanted the state to stop HSHS from closing. Since HSHS is a private company, there’s nothing that could’ve prevented them from closing. HSHS made their own decisions based on fiscal viability as a corporation responsible to their investors.

chippewa-valley-hshsThe one thing the state could do was move the $15 million that had been set aside for HSHS for behavioral health to other area providers to expand vital, stopgap services right now. It’s been almost a month and Republicans have refused to release the money.

We have the greatest and most caring medical professionals in the world. The healthcare workers we encounter in a hospital setting are there for all the right reasons. They want you to be comfortable during what can be a very trying time and they want to cure whatever ails you. No question, medical professionals are there to serve. But, can we count on corporations to have the same values and goals? Is it right to rely completely on corporations with our medical needs?

The healthcare system we live under operates through a network of hospitals, clinics and insurance providers. That network relies on compensation for services provided like any other business. That means each of us paying premiums to insurance companies which we expect to pay most, if not all, of the costs charged for care. But it goes deeper than that and can be complicated. Many people have needs that aren’t covered easily by an insurance plan or they cannot afford insurance. Then Medicaid is needed.

Medicaid is managed by the state and funded with federal and state funds. Something we can depend on in our healthcare system is that nobody can be turned away if they show up in the Emergency Department. But somebody has to cover the costs and it is always each of us in one form or another. Medicaid is meant to ensure that the aging population, blind and disabled will be covered. Medicaid in Wisconsin also covers children and pregnant women with incomes up to 300% of poverty and other adults with incomes up to 100% of poverty. But that still leaves nearly 90,000 people in our state without any coverage at all. It’s been over 10 years that Republicans have failed to fully expand Medicaid, and Wisconsin has lost billions of dollars.

jeff-smithHospitals are under pressure to serve everyone despite the fact that Medicaid reimbursement is too low to cover costs. Fully expanding Medicaid may not be the savior that prevents these hospital closures, but Wisconsin is forgoing billions of dollars that could help for purely ideological reasons.

These closures may be the first on this scale in Wisconsin, but they will not be the last if we do not take necessary steps to protect our healthcare system. I’ve requested a Legislative Study Committee to look specifically into hospital closures and dive into what we can do to prevent this from happening again.

HSHS took on the tough health care needs for our community – drug and alcohol abuse, emergency mental health care and served a high percentage of Medicaid recipients for many years. These services may not be profitable, but they’re necessary. Area providers or new ones must be willing to fill the need. Our region needs a strong commitment to serve the community.

Looking even further to the future we need to consider if an overhaul of our system is needed and how we get to a place where nobody is left wondering if they can get the care they need when they need it.


Senator Smith represents District 31 in the Wisconsin State Senate. The 31st Senate District includes all of Buffalo, Pepin and Trempealeau counties and portions of Pierce, Dunn, Eau Claire, Jackson and St. Croix counties.

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Who Wants to Serve?

Posted by Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, Senator District 31 (D - Eau Claire)
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on Wednesday, 20 March 2024
in Wisconsin

wi-assembly-hearingSenator Smith writes about the rash of childish appointment rejections by Republicans in the state senate and how it is impacting Wisconsin’s ability to attract talented people to serve.


MADISON - In the five years since taking office, Governor Evers has offered appointments ranging from cabinet secretaries to numerous boards and commissions for confirmation in the Wisconsin State Senate. The Republican-controlled senate has rejected 21 total appointments from the Governor.

The 21 appointments rejected in the last 5 years is far from normal. In fact, in the 40 years before Governor Evers, only 4 appointments were rejected. Rejecting appointments is usually reserved for the most egregious cases.

In the last five years, when the votes happened on the Senate floor, Democrats would ask for a reason why there were objections. Questions were mostly met with silence from the other side of the aisle. Occasionally, Republicans made excuses that had to do with how they didn’t like the applicant’s answer to a question. But it was always clear that it was either an ideological objection or punishment.

Since the start of Governor Evers’ first term, Republicans refused to bring the secretaries and other appointees to a vote. As frustrating and childish as that was, it only meant that those appointees would go about their business anyway and wait for an eventual confirmation. Strangely, for some of the appointments, the Senate has had to appoint and reappoint in the same session day because the Senate has failed to bring the appointments forward for so long.

In November of 2019, one year after Governor Evers was elected, the Senate majority placed the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) Secretary designee, Brad Pfaff, on the calendar for a vote. They chose to make an example of Brad Pfaff, who has since been elected to the State Senate. Not a single Republican voted to confirm his appointment and the Governor had to find a new secretary for DATCP. The message was clear that the Republicans had this power and were willing to abuse it when they didn’t get their way.

You may recall the mess created by one member of the Natural Resources Board, Fred Prehn, who refused to step down at the end of his term in the spring of 2021. For over a year Mr. Prehn held out as a Governor Walker appointee while Governor Evers’ appointee sat on the sideline unable to perform her duties. He held out to retain influence over chemical regulations in our water and decisions surrounding wolf hunting in Wisconsin. That case went to the then conservative State Supreme Court who ruled 4-3 that he didn’t have to leave if the state senate didn’t approve his replacement. That decision only emboldened Republicans to ignore appointments as long and as often as they want.  Furthermore, citizens had to foot the legal bills. Taxpayers spent roughly $76,000 to fund the legal fight for Prehn to remain on the board after his term expired.

During our final session day last week we voted on many appointments. But like any group of bullies there were eight people pulled out of the lineup of appointees and made examples of. Republicans needed to everyone one more time how petty they can be. What’s worse is that on Equal Pay Day, Republicans rejected five women of the eight total appointments.

jeff-smithDana Wachs was one of the chosen eight. Dana previously served Eau Claire for 6 years in the State Assembly. Last year Dana was appointed to serve us again on the Universities of Wisconsin Board of Regents. Serving in the legislature as a Democrat might have been enough reason for retribution by Republicans. But Dana Wachs’ real sin was that he disagreed with the decision to eliminate Diversity, Equity and Inclusion on UW campuses.

Finding qualified and passionate people to serve is hard enough. Finding people willing to serve is even harder. With a rejection threat looming, talented people are understandably nervous about serving our state. Who can blame them?

We should applaud, not punish, citizens who take time out of their lives to serve. It has been embarrassing to witness firsthand this vulgar display of politics in our Capitol. It is just one more reason why legislators must be held accountable by the citizens they are supposed to represent.


Senator Smith represents District 31 in the Wisconsin State Senate. The 31st Senate District includes all of Buffalo, Pepin and Trempealeau counties and portions of Pierce, Dunn, Eau Claire, Jackson and St. Croix counties.

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Recognizing Wisconsin Women

Posted by Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, Senator District 31 (D - Eau Claire)
User is currently offline
on Wednesday, 13 March 2024
in Wisconsin

women-3genSenator Smith recognizes March as Women’s history month with how women in his life have shaped his views on being an advocate for women and their advancement in society.


MADISON - March is Women’s History Month – it’s a time for us to recognize women’s achievements, honor women's history and reflect on the work that still needs to be done. At an early age, I was most inspired and influenced by the women in my life. I’m fortunate to have had these relationships throughout my life. Women have motivated me in so many different ways and have shaped me to be the person I am today.

I met my first best friend, Linda, when my family moved into my childhood home in Eau Claire. As kids, social norms taught us boys that we were supposed to play with boys and girls with girls. Despite these norms, and the taunts from the other kids in school, Linda and I played together.

Linda’s friendship taught me the importance of questioning social norms. If we had listened to the others in our classroom, I would’ve missed out on many memories, a great friendship and an even greater lesson.

Time and time again girls were at the top of our class. I learned to respect the efforts and work of the girls around me, especially the times when I fell short.

As I grew older, I continued to develop new friendships with the young women in my high school, which I still treasure to this day. In my adult life, that never changed. It was always clear to me that women in my life were motivated and knowledgeable in so many different aspects.

This includes the most important women in my life - my wife, Sue, along with our daughters, Emily and Sarah. They’ve pushed me to be well-rounded and inspired me to be who I am today. Whether it be at home, at the office, or even on the campaign, I’ve seen how the women around me stay committed and get things done.

working-women-aflcioFrom early on, I learned the importance of working with women. Without these relationships I wouldn’t be as aware of the diverse life perspectives in my community or the importance of listening to others while I’ve served as State Senator.

Our society relies on decision-makers spanning from local elected offices to Congress in which women have been underrepresented for years. Even today, in Wisconsin, women make up less than one-third (30.3%) of our legislature. Over the last 24 years there has only been a 6.8% gain in the gender-gap for our state legislature, demonstrating that Wisconsin has a lot of room for improvement.

Despite Wisconsin being ranked 32nd nationally for the amount of women serving in the legislature, we have seen some encouraging trends. Especially of note is our Wisconsin Supreme Court. Six of seven Supreme Court Justices are women in Wisconsin and 50% of our statewide elected constitutional officers are women. It’s incredible to watch talented Wisconsin women serve our state in all elected offices.

jeff-smithI understand that we all have busy schedules and a lot of things going on in our lives; however, we must remember to value the concerns and experiences of others, including the girls and women of our state. I’ve learned so much growing up with strong women surrounding me. These relationships are a reminder for me to stand up, support others, and advocate for issues that may not personally affect me.

As we continue to celebrate Women’s History Month, let’s make a better effort to celebrate the women in our lives by developing new friendships, connecting with others, and strengthening the voices around us.


Senator Smith represents District 31 in the Wisconsin State Senate. The 31st Senate District includes all of Buffalo, Pepin and Trempealeau counties and portions of Pierce, Dunn, Eau Claire, Jackson and St. Croix counties.

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You Can Be a Citizen Lobbyist

Posted by Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, Senator District 31 (D - Eau Claire)
User is currently offline
on Wednesday, 06 March 2024
in Wisconsin

high-voltage-lines-farmsSenator Smith breaks down his past two weeks of meetings filled with citizens from all walks of life and stresses the importance of sharing real life experience to improve our state.


MADISON - A typical week in our Madison office includes meetings with constituents who drive to Madison to advocate for organizations spanning all sorts of topics they are concerned about. In person meetings in the Capitol with citizens from the 31st Senate District are always uplifting and educational for me.

Oftentimes organizations will dedicate an annual lobby day for their members to visit the Capitol and educate legislators like me. In the last two weeks of February alone we hosted visitors for Dairy Business Day, the American Planners Association Day, Wisconsin Beverage Association Day and Nurses Day at the Capitol.

We also met with citizens representing the Association of Independent Colleges, the American Council of Engineering Companies, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Pharmacy Society of Wisconsin over the course of three days.

Other meetings peppered throughout the week included students from UW River Falls and Altoona High School, River Falls Chamber of Commerce members, Carpenters Union members and ABATE of Wisconsin advocating for motorcycle riders rights. Again, all those groups and individuals met in-person with me in my office during the last two weeks.

No two meetings are the same, and each group brings at least 2-3 different topics to discuss. It’s a lot of juggling to squeeze everyone into the schedule and it’s incredible to learn the amount of information I gather from citizen lobbyists.

chippewa-valley-rally-2020On top of those previously mentioned meetings was the annual Chippewa Valley Rally last Wednesday. Every year area chambers of commerce have their own special advocacy day to promote their region or city. There’s Central Wisconsin Days and Superior Days, for instance. But, for me, it’s a source of pride when so many excellent advocates from the Chippewa Valley take over the halls of the Capitol for one day and lobby my colleagues about our region. This year there were 124 people wearing the familiar Chippewa Valley Rally scarves talking to legislators and staff from all over the state. It makes a great impression.

Citizen lobbying is still the most valuable and inspiring form of advocacy we have. During the course of the year, thousands of citizens visit their Capitol building to speak to their legislators. Some come as individuals representing themselves while others attend with a large group.

While it may work well for some to drive to Madison to lobby us, it isn’t possible for most people. Their form of lobbying shows up in our mailbox or by telephone. That’s incredibly impactful, particularly if the letter or email is composed by the individual rather than a form-generated email.

jeff-smithWhat many people may not realize is that our office is really an office of constituent service. People call us when they have difficulties navigating a state agency or service. It could be someone needing answers about Medicaid or unemployment insurance. It could be questions for the Department of Workforce Development about layoffs or information about apprenticeship programs. Or, when in need, we can connect people to the Office of Commissioner of Insurance about flood insurance or the Department of Safety and Professional Services about getting a professional license. The staff in my office spend much of their time connecting people to the professionals that can help.

As your State Senator, I appreciate everyone from all walks of life informing me about your hard earned life experience and finding ways to improve our state. There’s nothing more valuable than sharing real life experience.

We can accommodate groups of any size. We had 24 nurses for their advocacy day while one doctor of pediatrics met with me to lay out their needs for state support. Some larger meetings we move to a conference room while most we can handle in our office. There’s no meeting too small or too large when it comes to ordinary citizens sharing their stories.

We like to say that the Capitol is the People’s House for a reason. Even if you just happen to be visiting for fun we welcome you to stop in our office in room 19 South, meet the staff and give a few words of advice. We’re there to listen and learn.


Senator Smith represents District 31 in the Wisconsin State Senate. The 31st Senate District includes all of Buffalo, Pepin and Trempealeau counties and portions of Pierce, Dunn, Eau Claire, Jackson and St. Croix counties.

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It Seems To Me: Don’t Limit HSHS Crisis Funding

Posted by Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, Senator District 31 (D - Eau Claire)
User is currently offline
on Wednesday, 28 February 2024
in Wisconsin

healthcare-family-drSen. Smith and Rep. Emerson examine the challenges presented by the recent HSHS closures in the Chippewa Valley and the importance of maintaining flexibility with the $15 million approved by the legislature.


EAU CLAIRE - The announcement that HSHS was closing Both Sacred Heart and St. Joseph’s Hospitals by April 21st came as a surprise to everyone in the Chippewa Valley.

Thankfully, all of us have pulled together to solve this crisis. The rapid departure of HSHS leaves Chippewa Valley communities reeling from 2 hospital closures, 19 clinic closures, 1,600 people unemployed and over 40,000 patients wondering how their healthcare needs will be filled.

Everyone felt the urgency when the Eau Claire Area Chamber of Commerce managed to pull together a meeting of officials and professionals to brainstorm what the next moves would be to fill the void left behind.

Bipartisan agreement was found to transfer the unused $15 million from HSHS for expanding behavioral health to other area providers. However, the disagreement is whether we should restrict them while responding to this crisis. It’s like showing up to a fire and we all agree to turn on the water, but some think a garden hose will do the trick instead of letting the firefighters use what they need.

We did our homework from the start by talking to the healthcare providers in the area that are trying to figure out how to pick up the pieces. We met with officials from Oakleaf, Marshfield, Mayo and even HSHS to learn what we could do to help. We connected them with state agencies to answer questions and determine ways to implement services easier and faster. We connected with the Department of Justice, the Department of Health Services, the Department of Safety & Professional Services as well as the Department of Administration.

jeff-smithWe learned that the greatest needs include expediting licensing and expanding urgent care, obstetrics, behavioral health, dialysis, and even primary care services. Most importantly, we learned we needed to prevent losing valuable medical professionals who were employed by HSHS. Even if other hospitals and clinics physically expand they won’t be able to provide the services needed without the personnel. Bricks can’t take a pulse and drywall can’t perform dialysis.

Colleagues of ours hurriedly put together two bills, Senate Bill 1014 (BS 1014) and Senate Bill 1015 (SB 1015) – SB 1015 reappropriates the $15 million; SB 1014 limits the funds only to emergency room construction, but not for medical personnel to staff it. If the authors of the bill would’ve done their homework like we did, they would’ve understood the importance of keeping these funds flexible.

Patients and health care providers shouldn’t have to wait for political maneuvers. This is a crisis and the funds should be immediate and flexible.

After the bills were introduced and public hearings held, we introduced amendments to the bills to remove the restrictions. We approached area Republicans with a solution but they failed to get their Republican colleagues behind the much needed changes based on area healthcare providers.

Simply put, we would be better off if the restrictions in SB 1014 don’t become law – promising $15 million with no realistic way to use it is foolish. This is an unusual case when doing something is worse than doing nothing. If the bill sent to the governor were to be signed into law, the Chippewa Valley will be back at square one with a lot of wasted effort for no gain.

Written by Senator Jeff Smith & Representative Jodi Emerson.


Senator Smith represents District 31 in the Wisconsin State Senate. The 31st Senate District includes all of Buffalo, Pepin and Trempealeau counties and portions of Pierce, Dunn, Eau Claire, Jackson and St. Croix counties.

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