The Chester County Medical Society hosted a virtual press conference Tuesday to discuss the potential reopening of Brandywine and Jennersville hospitals. A county Common Pleas Court judge Monday ordered the shuttered hospitals’ owner, Tower Health, to resume the effort to sell them to Canyon Atlantic Partners LLC that Tower itself abandoned in December.
Though there was much optimism expressed Tuesday that a deal could be reached within the next 90 days, there was also massive uncertainty about a timeline for restarting operations at the hospitals given that they have already closed — for more than six weeks in the case of Jennersville, more than two weeks for Brandywine.
Tower’s stance at the time it dropped the deal was that Canyon Atlantic had “not demonstrated the necessary regulatory and operational preparedness, nor validated its financial ability, to complete this transaction.” Reading-based Tower Health, which jointly owns St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children in Philadelphia with Drexel University, bought Jennersville and Brandywine, as well as three other regional hospitals (Chestnut Hill, Phoenixville, and Pottstown), in 2017 for $418 million — a deal that left the company in dire financial straits.
“Whether these hospitals are a warehouse or not is something that needs to be explored. But I can tell you that Canyon Atlantic and the leadership there will try their very best to make those hospitals function in a way that we can all be proud of,” said Benjamin Post, a Berwyn attorney serving on Canyon’s legal team.
In Post’s opening comments, he underlined that the success of the deal is dependent on the support of the community and local government.
“We have every expectation and every hope that these hospitals will be the epitome of what you would hope for in your community — not-for-profit or a public benefit corporation, something that the communities will be proud of,” Post said.
Canyon, it should be noted, is a for-profit company.
Post said Canyon needs Tower’s help if there is to be a “proper transition of power.”
Dr. Bruce Colley, president of the Chester County Medical Society, has been practicing within a few miles of Brandywine Hospital in Coatesville for roughly 32 years.
“When it became clear … over the summer that things may not go well at Brandywine, there was intense concern with physicians in the area. And being president of the Chester County Medical Society, I felt the brunt of that. Fortunately, [Bart] Post and [Benjamin] Post, father and son, had a plan that they presented, and we kind of ran with that,” Colley said Tuesday.
He thanked the medical societies in Delaware, Montgomery, and Philadelphia counties as well as the Pennsylvania group for their support during this period of litigation.
David McKeighan, executive director of the Chester County Medical Society, said he had a “great amount of faith” in Canyon’s team.
“It really is a big victory for patients and for access to care in southern and western Chester County. There’s a lot of folks in these communities. And I’m real pleased that we’re going to have an opportunity. We now have 90 days to complete this sale. And that’s an important point, we need to keep our eye on the ball and work together. And as the folks in Tower and Canyon come together, hopefully in that three-month period, we will have a real good plan,” McKeighan said.
State Rep. Dan Williams reiterated the hope that a deal could be on the horizon, especially with the partnership between Canyon and the medical society. He’s preparing for a smooth transition between Tower and Canyon, but he does have his doubts.
“I would be dishonest if I didn’t say to you I do have a concern, and my concern is that Tower might appeal this decision and that would greatly extend the timeline for when both hospitals’ doors can be open again, but I’m very hopeful that we don’t see this,” WIlliams said.
Tower has not yet commented publicly on the judge’s decision.
Vanessa Briggs, president of the Coatesville-based nonprofit Alliance for Health Equity, reiterated the “collective effort” required to pull off what at first appeared to be a legal Hail Mary. But she appreciates that their united front might have eased some concern in the community. She wants this communication to continue throughout the process.
“I think this news in this press release gives hope to the community because we know that a disruption of services, particularly health services, can be quite devastating for our community,” Briggs said.
No answers how reopening would occur
Though all was smiles and sunshine during Tuesday’s press conference, it was difficult to ignore the fact that the two hospitals are already closed, a pretty significant hurdle to clear.
When asked by an NBC10 reporter how Canyon would approach restaffing the hospitals, Canyon attorney Post acknowledged that it was an issue currently under evaluation.
“Canyon Atlantic would have preferred to simply have Tower to have gone through with the contract and not have stopped it on Dec. 8, because both hospitals were still open at the time,” Post said.
Williams noted that incentives offered to bring in staff would have to be provided solely by “those hiring.”
Once again leaning on a word used 33 times during the press conference — hope — Post said he believes Canyon’s leadership has what it takes to get the job done.
“These gentlemen have had considerable success turning distressed hospitals around and they have not been daunted in their effort to want to accomplish that,” Post said.
But when asked by WHYY News to provide a list or an example of which hospitals Texas-based Canyon has managed to turn around since it was formed in 2017, Post was unable to do so.
“They’ve been throughout the country and various states that I cannot enumerate for now, Mr. Cooper, but I know that in the testimony before Judge [Edward] Griffith, there was a description of how much success there has been. I know that, like any venture that has been designed to save hospitals, they’ve not always been completely successful, but their track record is outstanding. I can’t give you any specific names of hospitals, because, as I understand it, they’re mostly out of state,” Post said.
There is also no timeline at the moment for how long it would take to get the hospitals running again if Canyon and Tower come to terms.
“There’s a whole level of governmental scrutiny that appropriately needs to take place when a hospital reopens, so a lot of this is unchartered waters,” Post said.
He added that there is an effort to get onto the premises by next week and examine what equipment, if any, has been left by Tower at the Jennersville and Brandywine hospital sites.
For example, Canyon is unsure whether there are any MRI and CT machines on site. The hospitals could have been stripped bare. “We just don’t know,” Post said.
The one plan that Post could share is that Canyon envisions a hospital that is “as much a hospital as it is a community center, with novel types of treatment being offered in an ancillary way.”
Whether that promise gets to be fulfilled depends on whether Canyon completes a deal in the next 90 days.