Hahnemann closure will be a public health emergency, nurses union says

Hahnemann University Hospital  (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Hahnemann University Hospital (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Updated 6:30 p.m.

Wednesday morning, leadership at Hahnemann Hospital told staff there the hospital would close in the next 90 days. The nearly 500-bed hospital is a Level 1 trauma center and the main teaching hospital for Drexel University’s medical school and serves many low-income patients across Philadelphia. 

American Academic Health System, a subsidiary of Paladin Healthcare, bought Hahnemann along with St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children in 2018. In April, officials had announced 175 layoffs at Hahnemann and a plan to keep the struggling hospital afloat. 

St. Christopher’s Hospital will remain open. 

Company president Joel Freedman wrote in a statement that he had “pursued numerous strategic options” but was resigned to the “heartbreaking reality that Hahnemann cannot continue to lose millions of dollars each month and remain in business.” 

Yet leadership of the union that represents Hahnemann’s 800 registered nurses, the Pennsylvania Association of Staff Nurses and Allied Professionals (PASNAP), said Freedman did not try in earnest to save the hospital. 

“Over the last 18 months, he has basically plundered it and driven it into the ground,” said Samir Sonti, a spokesman for PASNAP. “He has been unwilling to work with stakeholders, elected officials, prospective buyers in a productive way to find a long-term solution to this.” 

Sonti added he suspected Freedman prioritized the hospital’s property value over its patients. 

“He’s always considered this a real estate investment and not a hospital that provides care to low-income population and employs 3,000 workers,” Sonti said.

American Academic Health System denied a WHYY News request for an interview about the Hahnemann closure. 

Hahnemann’s emergency department sees roughly 40,000 patients a year, and almost two-thirds of the hospital’s patients have government health insurance, such as Medicaid or Medicare. With Hahnemann closing, PASNAP’s Sonti said he expected patients to overwhelm other Philadelphia hospitals’ emergency departments. 

“When seconds matter, for a gunshot victim or a heart attack patient or anyone else, longer wait times, more crammed ERs with fewer resources to deal with more patients is a matter of life and death,” he said. 

Ruth Lefton, chief operating officer for Einstein Medical Center Philadelphia, said she expected her hospital to feel the impact of Hahnemann’s closing.

“We certainly expect the emergency department will be one of the areas where we’ll see quite a few patients,” Lofton said. “We certainly will need to staff up to be able to accommodate, but we are prepared for that, just as we have to be in our winter months, when our censuses increase in our hospitals. So we currently have mechanisms in to be able to flex our staff to be able to accommodate volume. And then obviously we may need to hire some additional staff in the future as well.”

In an email, Temple University Health System CEO Larry Kaiser said that Temple “has been preparing for this situation since we first learned about the potential for closure, and TUHS has the capacity and the ability to treat any additional patients who come to us in the wake of today’s announcement.” 

Thomas Jefferson University and Jefferson Health issued a similar statement, adding they were “committed to providing support to [Drexel medical school] trainees affected by the closure and doing our part to assist them.” 

Both Philadelphia hospitals have Level 1 trauma centers. 

In addition to the thousands of patients and employees who will be affected by Hahnemann’s closure, roughly 500 residents and fellows will need to find someplace else to go. 

Daniel Edwards is a urology resident at Hahnemann. He said there are a few options for him and his fellow residents. An entire roster of residents may be transferred from one program to another, or individual residents may seek out programs on their own or with the help of their program. 

Edwards said that while he feels support from the supervisory staff, he is still worried about the logistics of finding a new job.

“Aside from procuring training positions, there are obvious concerns regarding benefits and salary as residents transition from one program to another, in addition to potential complications such as family relocation/separation and mortgages, etc,” he wrote in an email. 

Drexel University released a statement saying officials there would make sure the closure offered “no disruption to the education of its medical students and an organized relocation of its hospital-based clinical rotations.” The statement cited affiliations with over 20 other clinical training sites. It also referred to Drexel’s strong relationship with Tower Health. In May, the two physicians groups issued a letter of intent to merge. 

Local politicians have not given up hope. Philadelphia’s delegation in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives issued a letter to Gov.Tom Wolf, petitioning him for a lifeline to keep the Hahnemann’s doors open until a long-term solution could be reached. They chalked up the closure to financial mismanagement and urged the appointment of an independent financial monitor in the interim until a new operator could be identified. 

In their letter, the state representatives warned that the closure of the hospital would result in a “bona fide public health emergency.” 

The article has been updated to correct the year American Academic Health System acquired Hahnemann and St. Christopher’s hospitals.

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