St. Christopher’s doctors call for local nonprofit to buy hospital

Dr. Grier Arthur, a pediatric surgeon at St. Christopher's Hospital for Children, expresses the conditions the hospital staff would like to see met by a new owner. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Dr. Grier Arthur, a pediatric surgeon at St. Christopher's Hospital for Children, expresses the conditions the hospital staff would like to see met by a new owner. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

A coalition of doctors from St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children and community members rallied Thursday to keep the institution in local hands.

The North Philadelphia hospital’s fate is in question because its parent company — Philadelphia Academic Health System, which also owns Hahnemann University Hospital — entered Chapter 11 bankruptcy on July 1. Philadelphia Academic intends to sell St. Christopher’s.

No one has submitted a bid yet for the 144-year-old hospital, which provides primary care to more than 30,000 pediatric patients per year and sees some 70,000 patients in its emergency room. About 86% of its patients are on Medicaid, and unlike some hospitals in the area, St. Christopher’s accepts all Medicaid plans.

Staff members of St. Christopher’s Hospital for children rally in support of maintaining the hospital’s impact in North Philadelphia. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Pediatric surgeon Grier Arthur heads the coalition of doctors and appealed to U.S. Bankruptcy Court Judge Kevin Gross — who is overseeing the Chapter 11 proceedings in Wilmington — to allow St. Christopher’s to continue to serve its North Philadelphia neighbors.

“Any cuts to the many vital services that this hospital provides would be disastrous for this community,” Arthur said. “We urge you, Judge Gross, to weigh what is best for St. Christopher’s and the unique community we serve.”

St. Christopher’s is what is known as a tertiary-care hospital, meaning doctors refer patients there for specialty services, such as burn treatment at its Burn Center for Children or acute care at its Level 1 Trauma Center.

St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children filed for bankruptcy on July 1. A new owner will determine whether it maintains its impact in North Philadelphia or reduces services. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Victor Igbokidi, medical director of pediatrics and adolescent services at the Philadelphia Department of Public Health, said his agency sends every uninsured patient requiring specialty treatment — whether it’s a child having an asthma attack or a baby who fails a hearing test — to St. Christopher’s.

“Our children will be nowhere without St. Chris in the North Philadelphia community,” Igbokidi said. “Moving forward, this hospital has to be maintained as a vibrant, strong, tertiary-care institution that is responsive to the needs of the children of Philadelphia.”

The coalition made three demands of a potential buyer: that it be local, not-for-profit, and committed to keeping the hospital intact and not dismantling it.

Albert Ciardi, the attorney representing St. Christopher’s medical staff in bankruptcy court, said the doctors want to maintain the care the hospital currently provides to the community.

“They saw what happened at Hahnemann,” Ciardi said. “They don’t want it to happen here. And we want to get out in front of it to make sure that the court and everybody knows this isn’t about numbers, this is about people.”

Dr. Grier Arthur (left), a pediatric surgeon at St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children, expresses the conditions the hospital staff would like to see met by a new owner. He is joined by Dr. Victor Igbokidi, medical director of pediatric and adolescent services for the City of Philadelphia. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

When it comes to numbers, St. Christopher’s has been profitable, as Hahnemann was not. David Zwillenberg, chief of surgery at St. Christopher’s, said the hospital has historically brought in about $3 million per month, whereas Hahnemann historically lost about $5 million to $7 million per month.

“St. Chris has been making money consistently, in spite of the poverty of our patients and the poor payments from the Medicaid insurers,” Zwillenberg said. “Whatever money we made, instead of being reinvested in our hospital, has been sucked away for many years.”

Judge Gross ruled Thursday afternoon that Hahnemann could proceed with the sale of its medical residency programs, though he gave the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services seven calendar days to appeal the ruling in U.S. District Court. But the decision paves the way for an official bidding process to begin for St. Christopher’s.

Reports indicate interest from Tower Health and Drexel University and a consortium of hospitals including Jefferson Health, Temple University Health System, Einstein Healthcare Network, and the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine.

Staff members of St. Christopher’s Hospital for children rally in support of maintaining the hospital’s impact in North Philadelphia. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Arthur, the leader of the doctors coalition, said he would support either group, though he said any comment was theoretical because no bids have been made.

Zwillenberg said if the right group bought St. Christopher’s, it could actually be a net benefit to patients.

“It’s a tragedy that Hahnemann closed,” he said. “But it may actually be an opportunity for us.”

St. Christopher’s staff return to work after a rally across the street from the hospital. Many fear a new owner will reduce services to the North Philadelphia community it serves. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

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