Major Drexel medical layoffs could jeopardize patient care

Drexel Medicine on Broad St. in Philadelphia (Google maps)

Drexel Medicine on Broad St. in Philadelphia (Google maps)

Hahnemann University Hospital is back in bankruptcy court Friday. Judge Kevin Gross is scheduled to consider the closure plan submitted by its owner, Philadelphia Academic Health System, and a proposal to sell Hahnemann’s residency programs to Tower Health.

Philadelphia Academic Health announced at the end of June that the 495-bed safety-net hospital in Center City would close by Sept. 6; it filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy soon after. Hahnemann is also the main teaching hospital for Drexel University’s College of Medicine, whose more than 570 residents and fellows will need to find new positions when the hospital closes.

Drexel, Tower Health, and Hahnemann have proposed shifting the training programs from Hahnemann to Tower’s six hospitals in the Philadelphia region and outside Reading. But that transition will put 40% of Drexel’s roughly 800 physicians and clinicians out of work, according to a letter sent out to the medical community by Drexel President John Fry on Thursday morning.

“The abrupt closure of Hahnemann has brought the Drexel University Physicians (DUP) practice plan to a crisis point,” Fry wrote.

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He explained in the letter that plans to merge Drexel and Tower were underway before Hahnemann’s owner announced its plan to close in late June, but that Tower would be able to offer employment to only about 60% of the medical faculty and clinical staff.

“Drexel is forced to eliminate certain health-care service lines and discontinue the positions of affected physicians and clinical staff,” Fry wrote.

Exactly which positions will be continued, and which will be discontinued, is still up in the air. For example, one member of Drexel’s OB/GYN department, whose floor has already closed at Hahnemann, said the word received from program leadership was that all clinicians and physicians in that department would be terminated.

Earlier this month, when Hahnemann, Tower, and Drexel announced their plan to transfer the medical residency programs from Hahnemann to Tower, they said Tower would do its best to offer jobs to most Drexel faculty members employed at Hahnemann.

Tower Health said Thursday that it was working with Drexel to find opportunities for as many affected physicians and clinical staff as possible.

“Tower Health understands the distress felt by so many in the Philadelphia region as a result of Hahnemann’s closure,” a spokeswoman wrote in a statement. “Our goal is to help as many as we can to navigate this difficult situation.”

Doctors with Drexel say the planned layoffs elevate the urgent question of where patients will get their care.

When Arundati Jayatilleke, a rheumatologist at Drexel, first heard the news that the hospital would be closing, she felt comfortable assuring her patients they could still get care from her office in Drexel’s outpatient clinic. They might not be able to visit the ER at Hahnemann or get X-rays there, but they could still come to Drexel Medicine’s main campus right across the street, where all its specialists were based.

After Thursday’s news, Jayatilleke said, it wasn’t clear to her which physician groups would be offered continued contracts with Tower and which wouldn’t.

“Because of that uncertainty, when patients ask what will happen or who they’ll see, I’m not exactly sure of the answer,” she said.

Also the head of the rheumatology fellowship program, Jayatilleke said her patients have already seen a disruptive amount of turnover. Because a new class of medical fellows had just started, patients had just met their new doctors when they learned that the hospital was closing and the fellows would be moving on. Jayatilleke had a hard time imagining some of her rheumatology patients, many of whom have been with the institution for decades, changing health systems so easily.

“I have a lot of patients who say, `You know, my family always went here, my children were born here, I was born here, all my doctors are here,’ ” she said.

Jayatilleke is set to start a new position with Temple Medicine once her contract with Drexel expires. She expects to find out the fate of the rheumatology department on Friday.

Also to be considered in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Wilmington Friday is the fate of St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children.

The 188-bed hospital in North Philadelphia also is owned by Philadelphia Academic Health. It was included in the Chapter 11 filing, but its owner has always maintained that St. Christopher’s, which had not been struggling financially in the same way Hahnemann has, would remain open.

Now, four local hospital systems have joined forces to make an offer for it. Temple Health, Jefferson Health, Einstein and Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine announced Wednesday that they will collectively negotiate with American Academic Health System, the parent of Philadelphia Academic Health, for the purchase of St. Christopher’s and its assets.

Attorneys for Philadelphia Academic Health said last week in bankruptcy court that selling off St. Christopher’s was a priority for maximizing profits to all its creditors.

“Every dollar I spend on the ER at Hahnnehman is a dollar I take away from something else, and that something else is St. Chris, which I’m trying to sell,” attorney Mark Minuti told Judge Gross.

A bidding process must be approved by the judge for the potential buyers to make an offer for St. Christopher’s.

Neither the real estate for St. Christopher’s, on Erie Avenue, nor Hahnemann, at Broad and Vine streets, is included in the bankruptcy filing. Sale of those properties will be negotiated separately.

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