Penn Medicine to offer VA services at former Brandywine Hospital

Penn Medicine is also weighing the possibility of re-establishing emergency care at Brandywine Hospital “beyond the partnership with the VA.”

The exterior of Brandywine Hospital

Brandywine Hospital in Coatesville. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

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Penn Medicine already has ideas for the Brandywine Hospital in Coatesville. The health system, which recently signed a letter of intent to acquire Brandywine from Tower Health, said it is currently busy working on addressing needs at the Corporal Michael J. Crescenz VA Medical Center campus in Philadelphia and the Coatesville VA Medical Center. They are partnering with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to serve the communities.

But this initiative also outlines Penn Medicine’s plans “for the operation of VA services for outpatient, acute mental health, and long-term care on the Brandywine Hospital Campus,” according to the company’s press release on Wednesday.

Kevin Mahoney, CEO of the University of Pennsylvania Health System, told the Philadelphia Inquirer that Penn has no interest in reopening inpatient beds at Brandywine Hospital.

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In June, the Coatesville-based Alliance for Health Equity released a summary report of the hospital closure’s impact on health equity in Greater Coatesville, which was based on feedback from more than 1,100 respondents. Along with gaps in services and access issues, the report highlighted “the vital need for a local community hospital to serve the Greater Coatesville area and beyond.”

Nicholas Torres, interim president and CEO of the organization, would not comment on whether Penn’s plans fit the bill for the “community hospital” as he wasn’t involved in the transaction, but he said he’s proud of the work that has been done in the surrounding area to address the social determinants of health since Brandywine closed.

“I think we’ve built up this last 18 months a fantastic infrastructure that really addresses issues or gaps that were there before,” Torres said.

He said he’s excited to see a hospital coming back to Coatesville.

“It’s a new hospital coming back with a coordinated, integrated system of care for the residents of Coatesville. And when you combine those two different things, you’re going to see Coatesville looking healthier and healthier as the things come back,” Torres said.

How will Chester County’s emergency care issues be addressed?

Penn’s announcement alluded to the possibility of re-establishing emergency care at Brandywine, however, it would require some legislative maneuvering from Harrisburg to accomplish this. Current state regulations do not allow for a freestanding emergency room.

“Penn Medicine is currently evaluating the needs of the community to determine additional programming for the Brandywine campus beyond the partnership with the VA. Emergency care has been identified early as a top priority for residents of the area – where Penn Medicine also operates Chester County Hospital — and leaders will work to develop an innovative plan to provide that type of care,” the press release read.

But as it stands right now, the issues that this part of Chester County is facing, such as dangerously long ambulance rides, are not likely to end anytime soon. Chaz Brogan, president of the Chester County EMS Council, called the circumstance a “new ordinary.” He credited Chester County Hospital, Paoli Hospital, and Phoenixville Hospital for helping EMS agencies adapt.

“They really improved a lot of their processes, increased their staff, increased their physical space, in some cases, and they’ve been able to really reduce a lot of those wait times down. Now, we still have wait times today, but today they are much more manageable than they were just 12 months ago,” Brogan said.

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He said that the EMS council has a great working relationship with Penn and that he hopes to hear from them soon about what Penn is planning to do with the facility.

Brogan, who is also the director of operations at Good Fellowship Ambulance in West Chester, reiterated that if Coatesville and the surrounding area remain without an emergency room, many of the issues the county currently faces will persist.

“We’re certainly hopeful that at some point, potentially some kind of emergency care services may be considered at that location. It’s obviously clear that there is a need for emergency care in that region. But again, until we hear formally from Penn about what their intended use is for the property, we can only speculate,” Brogan said.

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