The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

Sacred Heart closure impacts the UWEC community

Student Health Services remain unaffected, but the UWEC nursing program takes a hit
Photo by Willow Pawlisch
Sacred Heart Hospital’s east entrance faces the UW-Eau Claire campus.

Hospital Sisters Health Services (HSHS) and Prevea Health announced the closure of Chippewa Valley locations in late January. This means the oldest hospital in Eau Claire and the closest hospital to the UW-Eau Claire campus, Sacred Heart Hospital, will be gone by April 2024. 

Certain services are already closing down as specialized equipment is being shipped away. Students in the nursing program are in the process of shifting their clinical practice, while Student Health Services (SHS) are filling the care gap for the student population.

Tamara Miller has served as physician assistant for UW-Eau Claire’s SHS for 13 years and lives in the Eau Claire area. 

“It’s a big deal for the patients who have providers there,” Miller said. “If some people are being treated for cancer or pretty significant things that they need regular care on, some of them I think will end up having to drive all the way to Green Bay or find other providers locally if they can.” 

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Despite this news, Miller doesn’t see the closure affecting SHS’s quality of care.

“I imagine it might make us busier, and that would be fine. I think we have pretty good access. We’re busy every single day. We have same-day openings most days, but it’s easy to get second or third day appointments with us,” Miller said.

However, the students in UW-Eau Claire’s nursing program are already facing the effects of the hospital closure. The various nursing students who were employed at Sacred Heart Hospital now have to find new places to practice clinicals, an important part of the nursing program on campus. 

Elizabeth Vedbraaten is president of the Eau Claire Student Nurses Association (ECSNA) and a fourth-year in the UW-Eau Claire nursing program. She said her internship this summer might open some doors in the face of a competitive job market as a result of the closing, but it’s still uncertain.

“I would say with the closure of Sacred Heart I don’t know come December what the job opportunities are going to look like with there potentially being now a flood of applicants for Mayo and Marshfield,” Vedbraaten said.

The nursing program is highly competitive, admitting only 40 students per year. Most students admitted have future jobs lined up by their third or fourth year. 

When Sacred Heart announced the closure, those students faced the unexpected challenge of finding a new hospital willing to accept them for their clinical practice before they even graduated. 

Vedbraaten said, “There were a couple of senior clinical groups that were placed at Sacred Heart and with the closing they no longer practice clinicals there, so I know there was a last minute scramble to see where they will clinically practice.” 

As the local job market for nurses becomes filled with former Sacred Heart employees, it is unclear how much nursing students from Eau Claire will be affected in their long-term careers.

Miller said that from a healthcare standpoint, UW-Eau Claire students don’t have much to worry about.

“Outside of it being just a little more challenging for us to refer people. I think really it’s fine for the students that are here because we can provide most primary care services–urgent care services–that students need, so I’m just hoping there will be more awareness of us,” Miller said.

SHS provides care in physical exams, women’s health, contraceptive care, STI screening, mental health, medication prescriptions and travel and athletic physicals. Appointments are available to make online with a UW-Eau Claire student ID or by calling 715-836-5360. 

Pawlisch can be reached at [email protected]

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