HSHS hospital closures cause grief for former patients

Joseph Biedermann woke up to the sound of beeping hospital monitors, unsure of what was happening. He’d been unconscious for three days.

“That beeping and the hum and whoosh of machines still haunts me,” he said. “The first thing I saw was the fluorescent lights, then the IV and bed railings came into focus, and I realized I was in bad shape. But I was alive, and that was something.”

He has no memory of the accident that nearly killed him.

“But I remember the hospital. Well, I remember Sacred Heart. I don’t recall being at St. Joseph’s the night of the accident. They transferred me from St. Joe’s to Sacred Heart,” he said.

Emergency entrance to St. Joseph’s

A hospital closure notice posted on the door to the Emergency Room at HSHS St. Joseph’s on March 19.

Audrey Korte

Biedermann said it took awhile for him to piece together what happened.

He and his wife, Erin, were traveling on Highway 178 on their way back to Chippewa Falls from Eau Claire on Feb. 16, 2007, when another driver side-swiped their car, he said.

“We ended up rolling off the side of the road before hitting a tree,” he said. “My wife broke a few bones. She was banged up, but she wasn’t as bad as me. I was covered in bruises and lacerations. I broke my leg, hip, arm, wrist, collarbone, four ribs, my foot and eye socket. I was cut up pretty good, too. I had something like 60 stitches all over.”

Biedermann said he and his wife had only been living in Chippewa Falls for five months when the accident happened. He’d never visited either hospital before the night of the accident.

“I will never forget the care I received, first at St. Joe’s then at Sacred Heart. Believe me, it was lengthy. I spent quite a while in the hospital and was back at both HSHS locations many times that year for follow-ups and aftercare. I was worried that, you know, I might lose my ability to walk, but after a lot of work I recovered.”

Coming back to life

Biedermann said people often talk about gratitude when they survive something devastating. Now he understands why.

”I don’t think I really got it until years later. My wife got sick with cancer in 2018, and she passed away in 2020,” he said. “Now I realize that St. Joseph’s and Sacred Heart gave me all those extra years with her. There’s not a day that goes by where I don’t thank God for that. We both lived. We went on vacation together. We danced at my son’s wedding, thanks to them.”

Rick Flynn said he, too, is grateful for the lifesaving care received at HSHS hospitals.

Flynn started having serious health problems in 2015. For seven years he received treatment at HSHS St. Joseph’s and Sacred Heart from its wound care clinic among other hospital services.

Teri Ouimette and Rick Flynn

Teri Ouimette stands with Rick Flynn outside of Chippewa Falls Main Street in July 2022.

Flynn said he dealt with sepsis and toe amputation in January 2017, then in November of that year he had a leg amputation as part of ongoing health issues.

In November 2017, he was at his brother’s house when he fell backward. His step-dad, who lived one block away, came over to bring Flynn home.

“I couldn’t get up, so Jeff called the fire department and the guys came to the house, and by the time we got to St. Joseph’s I was clinically dead. The ER, they worked on me for 10 to 15 minutes in the ER to get my heartbeat back,” Flynn said.

Flynn was transferred to Sacred Heart Hospital, where he coded again. That was the night they amputated his leg, Flynn said.

“St. Joe’s saved my life. Sacred Heart saved my life. I’m here today because of them,” he said.

Flynn said in the days after losing his leg, he struggled emotionally about his health problems.

“The nursing staff was great. I went through a little bout of depression because of everything that happened and then a couple of nurses kind of got me out of my funk there. I still keep in touch with them today,” Flynn said.

Prayer for healing

A prayer for healing sits outside of the main entrance to HSHS St. Joseph’s Hospital on March 17.

Audrey Korte

‘A soulless day’

Rod Stetzer was a patient at HSHS Sacred Heart in late January. He was there the day that HSHS announced it would close its two hospitals in the region, along with multiple Prevea Health facilities.

“What struck me that day was I was still needing help. And everybody there was very professional. But when you looked in their eyes, you could tell that they were crushed. It was kind of a soulless day,” he said. “Their bodies were there and they were doing the right things, they were taking care of the patients, but their minds were elsewhere.”

Stetzer said he’s been back and forth to HSHS Sacred Heart numerous times for health problems since 2015.

Rod Stetzer


“They took really good care of me and always got me home,” he said. “They took me in and gave me my first COVID shot, too. And at the time that was like gold. You couldn’t get them anywhere. And HSHS stood up and gave all the shots in a church in the village of Lake Hallie, and I’ll always thank them for that, because it gave me the opportunity to get that shot at the height of the pandemic.”

Stetzer said he thinks a lack of planning has come back to hurt the hospitals.

“I love the city of Chippewa Falls. I lived and worked there for 40 years. I love the city government in Chippewa Falls, but no one had planned in advance. Or maybe they did, and I don’t know it. But I question the planning departments of both cities, of Chippewa Falls and Eau Claire, who do not have a contingency book for health care and probably not having a contingency book of other major industries that may go out of the area. Because there was nothing like that. Everybody was flat footed,” he said.

Stetzer said he’s worried people will die as a result of the hospital closures.

“There is no way around it. This will cost lives. This is deadly,” he said.

Kelsey Manquist, Joe and Erin’s eldest daughter, said she worries about the cost of the hospital closures.

“If St. Joseph’s wasn’t there, what would have happened the night of the accident? If the ambulance drivers were overwhelmed with calls and making trips all night to Eau Claire, would they have gotten him out in time?,” Manquist said. “They stabilized dad in Chippewa at St. Joe’s before bringing him to Sacred Heart. There’s a hundred different ways that night could have gone wrong, and I worry that this will be the future now for many people in Chippewa and Eau Claire with the two hospitals out of action.”

‘Hospitals are about the people, not the place’

Manquist lives in Menomonie. She said her dad moved in with her after her mom died.

“I will never forget Chippewa Falls, the first responders and the hospital for taking care of my folks,” Manquist said. “Every time mom and I used to drive by St. Joe’s, she’d say, ‘That’s where me and your dad, we renewed our contract on life together.’ She used to tell me about how she prayed for dad there with the chaplain when she was being treated after the accident. She always said, ‘God answered.’”

Manquist wonders how many other people have similar stories.

Car accident at County I and Commerce Parkway

EMTs place a Chippewa Falls patient into an ambulance in 2010 after an accident on County I and Commerce Parkway. 

“I think of all the life, and death, at both places. I think of the last words spoken and the babies born and the joy when people learned their loved ones would live or that their cancer was regressing, and it breaks my heart. St. Joe’s gave me my dad back. Sacred Heart kept him alive and literally nursed him back to health. I will never forget that. I will be forever thankful,” she said. “These hospitals are about the people, not the place. And taking that away, that community, is horribly sad and wrong.”

Stetzer said he feels sorry for all the patients and the staff who will lose their health care home because of the HSHS closures.

“They deserve better — the staff, doctors and nurses and EMTs. We all do. I am not impressed with HSHS, by which I mean the people in charge in Illinois, not the local workers who were blindsided,” Stetzer said.

He said the actions of HSHS regarding the announcement are “inexcusable.”

“How arrogant they are there. They are not only throwing dirt back at the patients that they’ve had through the years, but their very workers, hard working people who tried to save lives,” he said. “I’m just extremely disappointed that they didn’t take leadership on this. Didn’t take responsibility. They were not transparent. They just came up with mumbling word salad, not explaining why they’re pulling out and never giving a good definition of why they can’t compete here.”

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