Tony Evers showed his age a bit Tuesday during his first official visit as governor.
“I don’t think I’ve been in Gundersen facilities for over 30 years,” Evers said after touring the La Crosse campus of Gundersen Health System.
“Things have changed — and changed for the better. They obviously provide great care for everyone who walks in the doors,” Evers said.
Evers made a point of visiting the health care center and meeting with La Crosse health care leaders, saying he recalled doing the same when he began his campaign for governor.
“I remember talking to several people that had decided to move across the river to Minnesota, so that they could access not only better care but also, most importantly, affordable care,” Evers said.
The new governor hopes the days of losing people to Wisconsin’s neighbor across the Mississippi are over.
“We’re going to make sure that we are able to compete with Minnesota. Certainly we have good health care here, right here at Gundersen. I’m sure a lot of people who work here and actually get treated come from Minnesota, but the bottom line is we need to make sure we have the best health care possible,” Evers said.
Improving health care was a major part of Evers’ campaign against former Gov. Scott Walker, and Evers said it will continue to be a priority after he took over the position Monday.
“Clearly the issue of health care, affordable and accessible health care, is something that is truly, truly important for people who came to us from the La Crosse area, but frankly across the state,” Evers said.
Evers plans to accept the federal Medicaid expansion money with the state Legislature’s help.
“In addition, we heard loud and clear the fact that there are 2.4 million people in Wisconsin that have preexisting conditions, and we need to have that protection, especially that protection defined in the Affordable Care Act,” Evers said.
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Evers renewed his promise to work with representatives in the federal government to keep those protections, as well as ask the attorney general to withdraw Wisconsin from the lawsuit objecting to the ACA.
“We will be sending that letter sometime in the very near future, possibly today. We feel it’s important that we meet the promises we made in this campaign and we will be doing that,” Evers said.
Evers was joined on his tour by Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes, Department of Health Services Secretary-designee Andrea Palm and Gundersen executive vice president Dr. Michael Dolan.
Dolan appreciated Evers’ interest in the hospital, saying partnerships are important when it comes to Gundersen’s ability to achieve its triple aim of providing exceptional care, improving the health of the community and reducing the financial burden of health care.
“The government plays a significant role in health care and we look forward to continuing partnerships both local and at the state and national level to better accomplish that level of health for our communities,” Dolan said.
During his La Crosse visit, Evers expressed concern over the local impacts of the ongoing federal government shutdown.
“Unfortunately, there seems to be no end to that ridiculous thing,” Evers said. “What happens in Washington is Washington, but what happens in the people in the state of Wisconsin as a result of that, that’s a problem.”
With the two levels of government entwined when it comes to providing veterans benefits, health care and other government services, the shutdown hurts not only local federal employees, but also people on the receiving end of those services.
“As it drags on, the problem is it becomes political theater, which is hurting the people of Wisconsin and all other states,” Evers said.
Evers also addressed the two executive orders he signed Monday, one of which directs department secretaries to evaluate turnover and staff moral and another that directs state agencies to build policies to protect LGBTQ people from employment discrimination.
It was a priority to make sure all of state’s employees felt respected and valued, the governor said.
“I believe that over the last eight years that has been an issue. As somebody that has run a state agency, I know how important it is to have a good culture where people feel engaged in their work, feel comfortable coming to work and feel they that they have value and I’m not sure that happened in the rest of the state government,” Evers said