Northeastern Hospital closing

    Northeastern Hospital in Philadelphia in the Port Richmond section of Philadelphia will end its in-patient services on June 30th. Health care experts weigh in on what the closing means for our region.

    Northeastern Hospital in Philadelphia in the Port Richmond section of Philadelphia will end its in-patient services on June 30th. That means the hospital will close its maternity ward, where about 1800 women gave birth last year. Once Northeastern closes, only six Philadelphia hospitals will still deliver babies.

    Jennifer Kolker is assistant professor of health management and policy at the Drexel School of Public Health. She says while 1800 births is not a huge number, and those births likely can be absorbed by other hospitals, there is an underlying issue that could threaten the quality of maternity care in the city:

    Kolker: Obstetrics is in this climate of medical malpractice cost, medicaid reimbursement, private reimbursement is is not a tenable line of business. So the bigger problem, the system-wide problem is that you can’t afford to do it anymore.

    Kolker says malpractice and reimbursement reform has to happen at the state level to ensure that hospitals will be able to handle Philadelphia’s approximately 20,000 births a year.

    Letty Thall is public policy director at the Maternity Care Coalition. She agrees that the closing affects women all over the Delaware Valley, not just those who planned to take advantage of the hospital’s maternity services:

    Thall: For our region it really is becoming a public health emergency. We now are left with six birthing facilities in the city of Philadelphia, many do not take all insurance plans, and women need to go where their insurance plans are accepted.

    Thall says having to travel long distances to receive services causes problems with access to prenatal and postpartum care for women. Other healthcare experts say that issues like malpractice law and reimbursement make it difficult for hospitals to continue providing maternity care.

    Temple University Health System officials say that Northeastern will transition into an ambulatory care center, offering out-patient health services and prenatal care. Northeastern reported a loss of more than $6 million last year, and expects to lose $15 million in the fiscal year that ends June 30th.

    Ken Braithwaite of the Delaware Valley Healthcare Council says hospitals across the region are struggling financially. He says Northeastern Hospital was hit especially hard by cuts in federal and state reimbursement programs like Medicaid and Medicare:

    Braithwaite:
    The large volume of patients at Northeastern, their payer mix was over 50 percent medical assistance or medicaid. That pays a hospital about 80 percent of their cost, so for every dollar of care provided the hospital loses twenty cents. Hospitals just can’t sustain that.

    Braithwaite says local hospitals will have to make tough decisions to cut costs.

    Listen to the radio report:

    [audio:sci20090324northeaster.mp3]

    Get the mp3 »

    Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

    It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.