How Philly City Council aims to make unexpected hospital closures like Hahnemann a thing of the past

Hahnemann Hospital in Philadelphia (Image via Flickr Commons)

By Michael D’Onofrio

PHILADELPHIA — Should hospital owners give Philadelphia officials a heads up when they intend to close?

Some sitting City Council members think so and want to make it mandatory.

On Thursday, City Council introduced a bill that would require hospital owners in Philadelphia to provide written notice to city officials at least 180 days before they intend to close all or most of their departments.

At-large Councilmember Helen Gym, a Democrat and the main sponsor of the bill, said she pitched the proposal with the intention of averting another abrupt hospital closure like Hahnemann University Hospital, which filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in June citing financial woes.

The legislation would “make sure we will never again be left out of critical decisions that impact the lives of our neediest residents,” Gym said during Thursday’s council session in City Hall.

The legislation garnered nine cosponsors: Councilmembers Bobby Henon, Bill Greenlee, Cherelle Parker, Kenyatta Johnson, Jannie Blackwell, Mark Squilla, Curtis Jones, Allan Domb and Derek Green.

A hearing on the legislation has yet to be scheduled. If Council does not approve the legislation before its term ends in December, the bill will die.

Philadelphia Academic Health System purchased Hahnemann in January 2018. Joel Freedman, a California investment banker, heads the company.

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Hahnemann’s owners said the hospital, which opened in 1848, was losing money. The hospital had a Level 1 trauma center with nearly 500 beds in its Center City building and accepted upwards of 50,000 emergency room visits a year.

The facility was the main teaching hospital for Drexel University’s medical school, had a maternity ward, and served many low-income patients and those on public insurance. The hospital employed approximately 2,500 people.

If passed, the proposed legislation would expand and bolster a 1960s-era city regulation, which only requires advance notice about the anticipated closures of medical facilities with emergency rooms.

The proposed bill would require hospital owners to create a comprehensive “closure plan” and submit it to the city least 120 days before they intend to shut down a facility. The city health commissioner would have to approve the plan.

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A closure plan, according to the legislation, would require hospital officials to state why they intend to close a facility, how they intend to handle patient transfers and patient medical records, and whether they intend to assist affected staff to find new jobs, among other things.

The legislation would grant city officials the power to take scofflaw hospital owners to court in an attempt to halt a closure and appoint a temporary manager to create and carry out a closure plan.

The proposal, Gym said, would protect Philadelphia from being left in the dark about the future of health care facilities, which are increasingly purchased by for-profit companies.

“The harsh realities and destructive practices of a ruthless for-profit healthcare market,” she said, “means cities have to step up in our protections and demands of transparencies.”

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

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