As a West Philadelphia hospital expects to end services, City Council wants to find solutions

Mercy Catholic Medical Center-Mercy Philadelphia Campus (Photo via The Philadelphia Tribune/ Google Maps)

By Michael D’Onofrio

PHILADELPHIA — Philadelphia City Council wants to explore how Philadelphia officials can prepare for and prevent hospital closures and loss of healthcare services.

A City Council committee plans to hold a hearing in March on the topic, said at-large Councilman Isaiah Thomas, who on Thursday introduced the resolution calling for the hearing. He anticipated that leadership and staff of local hospitals and residents living around hospital facilities will testify.

Thomas called for the hearing a day after Michigan-based Trinity Health revealed it will stop offering inpatient services at Mercy Catholic Medical Center-Mercy Philadelphia Campus.=

Thomas said city officials were investigating how the 102-year-old hospital’s inpatient services could be saved, suggesting the city could tweak its zoning regulations but did not elaborate.

“I do not believe it’s too late for Mercy,” he said.

Ann D’Antonio, a spokeswoman for Trinity Health Mid-Atlantic, said in a released statement that Trinity cannot continue offering inpatient services due to financial strains.

No date has been set for when the services will end. All other services at the hospital, including its 30-bed emergency department, will remain operational.

“After careful consideration, we have come to the financial realization that our Mercy Philadelphia campus simply cannot continue operating in an acute-care capacity over the long term,” D’Antonio said.

“In the coming months, we will begin the slow, deliberate and informed process of transforming our campus away from an inpatient hospital, shifting toward a model that can better and more sustainably serve the West Philadelphia community in the future.”

Hahnemann sale expected to trigger more oversight for hospital closures

In a telephone interview Thursday, D’Antonio said Trinity was conducting a facility assessment. Asked whether Trinity Health intended to keep the facility, she said, “We’re examining options.”

“We don’t know what form that will take,” she said. “It’s too soon for us to really comment as to what that will look like.”

Mercy Philadelphia, at 501 S. 54th St., is a 157-bed safety-net hospital that services primarily low-income, uninsured and vulnerable individuals.

Thirty of the hospital’s beds are in its emergency department, which the hospital renovated last year at a cost of $15 million.

The hospital employed around 900 staff members and more than 340 physicians. In 2018, the hospital had approximately 7,600 admissions.

The hospital lost money in six of the past seven years and admissions dropped 25 percent since 2013.

Mercy Philadelphia is the latest Philadelphia hospital to announce that it was having financial trouble.

Last year, the owners of Hahnemann Hospital closed the 171-year-old facility in Center City after filing for bankruptcy. The hospital accepted upwards of 50,000 emergency room visits a year and served many low-income patients and those on public insurance.

The unexpected closure of Hahnemann Hospital spurred City Council to pass legislation mandating hospital owners to inform Philadelphia officials at least 180 days before they intend to close and set up a plan to transfer patients.

Councilwoman Jamie Gauthier, who represents District 3 where Mercy Philadelphia is located, said on Thursday that Mercy Philadelphia’s proposal to end inpatient care caught her unaware.

Gauthier said the loss of inpatient and emergency services at Mercy Philadelphia would have a “dramatic and detrimental impact” on healthcare access for residents in West and Southwest Philadelphia, especially poor and working-class individuals.

Gauthier said she would work with the leadership of Mercy Philadelphia and other local hospitals and the Kenney administration to find a way to fill the gap of care.

“I ask that Mercy hospital be transparent about its plans and communicate proactively with City Council and the public as things develop,” she said.

D’Antonio said the Catholic organization was “open to any discussions” with city and state officials regarding the future of the Catholic hospital.

“That’s part of this process,” she said. “We’re investigating opportunities. We’re working with a third-party group to help us assess what is possible with our facility. We’re looking at every option that’s possible for the best way to serve that West Philadelphia community.”

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