Hundreds rallied in front of Hahnemann University Hospital Thursday in another day of protests opposing its planned closure. Police estimated that a crowd of 800 — the biggest turnout to date — gathered in front of the facility on Broad Street near Vine.
The rally took place just hours before the official start of hearings in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Wilmington on a petition by Hahnemann’s owner for Chapter 11 reorganization. Philadelphia Academic Health System announced in late June that it would close the nearly 500-bed facility, which serves as the primary teaching hospital for Drexel University’s College of Medicine.
On Thursday, the protesters slammed Joel Freedman, the California investment banker who is president of Philadelphia Academic Health’s parent company, for what they see as an attempt to encroach on a vulnerable hospital and turn it into a valuable real estate opportunity.
Katrina Frasier, an EKG technician in cardiology who has worked at Hahnemann for 34 years, said the damage extends beyond the hospital’s more than 2,500 employees.
Frasier said patients have been asking about where they will go.
“It’s sad Joel Freedman don’t even care,” she said.
Samir Sonti, a spokesman for the Pennsylvania Association of Staff Nurses and Allied Professionals, said more people from outside the city are paying attention to the Hahnemann closure because it sets a bad precedent.
“Hospitals all over the country are located in low-income neighborhoods that are ripe for real estate development, and we need to stop Joel Freedman from turning this into a real estate commodity and setting a precedent that will be replicated elsewhere,“ Sonti said.
One national figure following Hahnemann developments is Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, who weighed in on the closure days ago, blaming corporate greed for the slated closure. He penned an op-ed in the Philadelphia Inquirer with Councilwoman-at-large Helen Gym.
“By separating the health-care business from the real estate, Mr. Freedman has positioned himself to sell off the land for a fortune while allowing the hospital itself to wither away,” they wrote.
Sanders sent Nina Turner, an Ohio politician and campaign co-chair, to represent him at Thursday’s protest and lead calls for a Medicare for All, single-payer health care system.
“He wants you to know that he’s with you,” Turner said. “You are the witness of what a rotten, corrupt system looks like.”
“The state can step in and take over, that’s what I’m hoping for,” said Frasier.
The hundreds of protesters gave her hope it could happen.
Gov. Tom Wolf and Mayor Jim Kenney cast a wide net Thursday, looking for investors to help turn the hospital around.
“We urge any willing or interested parties to contact either of our offices to discuss how we can help mitigate the damage done by Joel Freedman and his firm,” they said in a joint statement in which they slammed Philadelphia Academic Health’s bid for bankruptcy protection and said a short-term solution was not viable.
Councilwoman Gym asked for the public’s help to save Hahnemann’s maternity department, one of six such wards in the city.
“We need the governor to step forward and release some temporary funds so we don’t crash our city and so we don’t have a massive public-health emergency on our hands,” Gym said.
Hahnemann is a safety-net hospital for the city’s low-income residents. Many of its maternity patients are on Medicaid, and, according to a representative of Philadelphia’s Department of Public Health, about half the women who deliver at Hahnemann have used the city’s free medical clinics prior to giving birth.
Earlier this week, about 800 pregnant patients received letters from the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Drexel’s medical school that Hahnemann would no longer perform non-emergency surgeries and procedures, including childbirth.
In a statement Thursday afternoon, Philadelphia Academic Health said: “For existing obstetrics patients who were admitted to the hospital prior to July 12, care will be conducted as planned, including the delivery of babies, nursery and postpartum care.”
Drexel obstetricians and gynecologists have obtained privileges at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital for their patients who choose to deliver there, the statement said.