‘This is terrible for those trainees’: Crozer-Chester Medical Center to end surgical residency program

The Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education stripped Crozer Health of its certification — dealing another blow to the struggling hospital system.

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Crozer-Chester Medical Center has seen many of its services cut in recent months. (Kenny Cooper/WHYY News)

Crozer-Chester Medical Center has seen many of its services cut in recent months. (Kenny Cooper/WHYY News)

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Effective Friday, Crozer-Chester Medical Center will end its surgical residency program. The Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education stripped the languishing hospital of its certification.

The national oversight group cited “special circumstances” for shuttering the program at Crozer Health’s flagship hospital. This leaves the status of the hospital’s 15 surgical residents up in the air.

This is the latest in the series of relentless blows to Crozer Health.

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The four-hospital system has been bleeding resources and shuttering services under the ownership of Prospect Medical Holdings. Plagued by financial issues and lawsuits driven by its decision to close Delaware County Memorial Hospital, Crozer is a shell of its former self.

The loss of a surgical residency program could throw hurdles at Prospect’s ability to sell Crozer to a new owner. According to ACGME, its last site visit to Crozer-Chester was in November.

Some time in between then and earlier this year, the organization decided to pull the accreditation.

“Due to confidentiality between the ACGME and its accredited programs and institutions, it cannot share details behind accreditation decisions beyond what is on this site but the program/institution may share what they are comfortable with,” said Susan Holub, vice president of communications for ACGME.

Lori Bookbinder, a spokesperson for Crozer, did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Dr. Safiyya Shabazz, president of the Medical Society of Eastern Pennsylvania, is worried about what this certification withdrawal could mean for the future of Crozer-Chester’s surgical residents. Founded in 1961, the Medical Society of Eastern Pennsylvania is an affiliate of the National Medical Association, which is the oldest and largest association of Black physicians in the country. The goal of MSEP is to increase diversity in the field of medicine and to advocate on behalf of the Black community. Chester, which does not have an abundance of primary care physicians, is one of the communities that depends on the hospital for health needs.

“This is terrible for those trainees. You cannot practice medicine in the United States without completing some level of residency training in order to get a license,” Shabazz said. “They cannot be surgeons without completing a surgical residency somewhere. And as far as they’ve gotten — many of them have accumulated hundreds of thousands of dollars in student loans to become physicians and they cannot progress through the next level and serve their community without completing a surgical residency somewhere.”

Shabazz, who owns a primary care practice in Mount Airy, said surgical residents are learning physicians who have already racked up thousands of hours of training . They work under the supervision of a fully-licensed doctor at a very discounted price. She said they are invaluable to a functioning hospital.

“Hospitals that have the fortune of having residents, many times, are able to serve a larger number of people in the community and are able to increase the capacity of the fully licensed surgeons,” Shabazz said.

Crozer-Chester is a level II trauma center. Shabazz is worried that changes to the hospital’s capacity could threaten that.

“How does this affect the hospital’s accreditation as a level II trauma center, if they are losing their surgical residency? One of the requirements is to have 24-hour immediate coverage by general surgeons,” Shabazz said. “That is one of the listed criteria to be a level II trauma center and that will be much more difficult for the hospital to maintain if they lose 15 physicians to provide that coverage.”

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Shabazz said there’s an “unfortunate epidemic of gun violence” affecting marginalized communities like Chester and that it’s important that the hospital maintains its standing.

She said from her recent conversations with Chester residents, she is aware that they’ve been avoiding the hospital since the privatization of the system.

“It sounds like there might be really more a deeper issue about the overall hospital and the management of it — whether they’re adequately staffed in general — and that may have been a contributing factor where people in the community, unless they’re having an emergency, have been avoiding the hospital when they can, because they feel like since it went private, there’s been a decrease in the quality of care that’s being provided,” Shabazz said.

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