Philly officials, Hahnemann owners in ‘challenging’ negotiations over using hospital during COVID-19 pandemic

Hahnemann Hospital in Philadelphia (Image via Flickr Commons)

By Michael D’Onofrio

PHILADELPHIA — City officials are calling for more leadership from the federal government to respond to the coronavirus pandemic and said the owners of the defunct Hahnemann Hospital were dragging out negotiations with the city to potentially use the shuttered facility.

Mayor Jim Kenney said the city’s stay-at-home order will remain in effect for as long as necessary to combat the effects of the virus, rebuffing President Donald Trump for weighing whether to defy health experts and lift national restrictions in order to restart the economy.

Lifting restrictions too early would put the economy ahead of saving lives, Kenney said, and city officials continued to wait on much needed federal aid.

“This is a need for the president of the United States and the United States Congress to step up and act like it is a war, like it is a depression and do what needs to be done,” Kenney said.

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Trump tweeted on Sunday, “We cannot let the cure be worse than the problem itself,” and reiterated it during the White House’s Monday news conference and on Twitter Tuesday. Several news agencies reported Trump is considering lifting the 15-day restrictions to help the economy.

Philadelphia had 77 new coronavirus cases on Tuesday, bringing the total of 252 cases, Health Commissioner Thomas Farley said. Twenty-three individuals were known to be hospitalized due to the virus.

Farley said the overall trend for cases was increasing rapidly, which he expected to continue for at least the next week.

Of the total number of cases, 10 were under 20 years old; 122 were between 20 and 39 years old; 56 were between 40 and 59 years old; and 64 were above the age of 60.

City officials remain in negotiations with the owners of Hahnemann Hospital to make use of the vacant building in Center City, which closed due to bankruptcy last year, to handle an anticipated surge in patients and quarantine space.

City Manager Brian Abernathy said negotiations with Joel Freedman, a California investment banker and chief executive of the hospital’s parent company American Academic Health System, were “challenging.”

“[Freedman] is looking how to turn an asset that is earning no revenue into an asset that earns some revenue and isn’t urgently thinking through what the impacts are on public health,” Abernathy said.

“He is looking at this as a business transaction rather than providing an imminent and important need to the city and our residents.”

City officials have turned down the hospital owner’s offers for the city to purchase the building and to lease it for a year.

Abernathy said the owners were now offering a six-month lease for an “unreasonable” rental price, but remained “cautiously optimistic” a deal would get done.

“As you know, the owner Mr. Freedman was difficult to work with at times when he was the owner of the hospital and he is still difficult to work with as the owner of the shuttered hospital.”

Freedman was not immediately available for comment.

Michael D’Onofrio is a reporter for the Philadelphia Tribune, where this story first appeared.