Hahnemann to close, slashing 2,500 jobs; emergency services set to end Monday

Hahnemann University Hospital
Photo credit Holli Stephens/KYW Newsradio
See the latest on the Hahnemann University Hospital closure.

UPDATED: 5:40 p.m.


PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — American Academic Health System (AAHS), the parent company of Hahnemann University Hospital, announced Wednesday morning that it will close the hospital a Philadelphia institution for more than 150 years  on or around Sept. 6.

The stunning news was delivered during employee meetings at the hospital, which were even live-streamed throughout the building for those who couldn't leave their posts.

The company blamed the closure on "continuing, unsustainable financial losses."

Emergency services to effectively end Monday

A letter from the mayor's office obtained by KYW Newsradio disclosed Wednesday afternoon that in addition to the closure, Hahnemann's ambulances and emergency services will effectively close beginning July 1.

The mayor and health commissioner said the abrupt closure of the hospital would cause "substantial harm to patients, hospital residents and other employees, the community at large, and the City itself."

According to a 1969 regulation by the Philadelphia Board of Health, any hospital within the city is prohibited from discontinuing emergency care without authorization from the health commissioner.

"We would need in-depth consultation and planning to determine whether and how Hahnemann’s various facilities could be safely reduced or eliminated," read the letter.

Hahnemann serves about 56,000 patients a year in its emergency room alone, according to city officials. 

The letter also noted the city was told Tuesday that the hospital planned to divert ambulances, beginning this Friday through Monday. On Wednesday, however, they were told about the hospital's closure, as well as the closure of "most emergency and operating room services beginning July 1," which would "effectively discontinue all new admissions as of July 12 and cease most clinical operations by the end of July."

"This is unacceptable on such short notice," read the letter to Joel Freedman, president and CEO of AAHS. "This is the beginning of Fourth of July week, which in Philadelphia typically coincides with elevated levels of emergency transports. You may not close or reduce your emergency services without an acceptable plan in place, and we do not see how that can be possible this week when you have not even presented us with a proposed plan."

The city hopes to negotiate with AAHS a plan to not end or decrease emergency services. In addition to the hospital's patients, a closure on emergency services would also impede hospital residents and students, current and incoming.

"You need to work with us to avoid or mitigate these harms," it read.

Employees bid brief farewells

Barbara, a day surgical nurse who's been at Hahnemann for 15 years, said the news was met with lots of tears.

"To say goodbye, to know we can never come back here. And this family that we created here. I mean, looking around the room today, there were so many familiar faces that, from every department, and people that gave 30-plus years. And today it wasn't even acknowledged. It was kind of just dismissed and thrown away, and that's what's breaking our hearts today," Barbara said. 

Judy, a day surgical nurse, started her career at Hahnemann 35 years ago.

"We heard that Aug. 25 will be our last day of employment. Our health benefits will end at the end of August. They're supposed to have a job fair for us, but Hahnemann employs around 1,500 or more people. I don't know where we're all going to be."

The hospital currently employs about 2,500 people.

'Continuing, unsustainable financial losses'

The Pennsylvania Association of Staff Nurses and Allied Professionals, which represents 800 registered nurses at the hospital, reached out to Harrisburg, where the Philadelphia legislative delegation responded with a united plea to Gov. Tom Wolf to intervene to stop the closure.

Members of the Philadelphia County delegation for the state House and Senate are asking Wolf to consider emergency funding to keep Hahnemann afloat.

One of them, state Rep. Brian Sims, said the delegations want the hospital's owner to "submit to an audit and agree to a state-appointed independent monitor" to oversee operations and financial management.

Mayor Jim Kenney described the city's recent attempts to keep the hospital on life support.

"We've been working for the past number of months with Drexel and with the hospital, donors, trying to figure out what we can do to keep it open. It was kind of a bumpy experience," he said. "They weren't real forthcoming with a lot of the details of the finances. So it was really hard to come up with something that would be a fit."

PA SNAP spokesman Samir Santi said the hospital's problems began when Freedman, who leads the California-based AAHS, bought the hospital early last year.

"Because of Freedman's negligence and, frankly, I mean, I don't even know how to characterize it its pathological management of this hospital, it is in financial distress right now," he said. "It needs a financial lifeline, but, as I think everyone agrees, we can't give this guy a dime." 

Santi said the union is seeking state aid and a new, experienced nonprofit organization to take over Hahnemann operations.

"He's run it in the interest of profit for him and his family and not in the interest of patient care, and our members have been dealing with that since he bought it; have been dealing with the inadequate resources at their disposal to take care of patients," he added.

A legacy of helping those in need

Union President Maureen May said in a statement: "Hahnemann is a safety-net hospital that for decades has provided care to an under-served community. We cannot allow predatory, for-profit companies to plunder such a valuable public good. It is incumbent upon the State and City to step in and guarantee that the poor and working people who depend upon this hospital continue to receive the care that they need."

The hospital has served low-income Philadelphians for much of its history. To close it would place a burden on other Philadelphia-area hospitals that serve similar populations.

"These institutions cannot serve the 40,000 ER patients Hahnemann sees annually without compromising the quality of care they are able to provide. Such an event would represent a true public health emergency," read the union's statement.

Freedman, in a statement from the company, said Wednesday, "We relentlessly pursued numerous strategic options to keep Hahnemann in operation, and have been uncompromising in our commitment to our staff, patients, and community. We are saddened our efforts have not been successful, and we are faced with the heartbreaking reality that Hahnemann cannot continue to lose millions of dollars each month and remain in business."

Allen Wilen, chief restructuring officer for AAHS, addressed the question of patient care in a statement from the company:

"Our primary concern is the care of our patients," he said. "Our dedicated staff will continue to care for each and every individual, until all patients can be safely discharged or transferred to new facilities."

According to the AAHS statement, Hahnemann will immediately start winding down inpatient and outpatient services and will work to find placement for all residents and fellows completing their training at Hahnemann.

Freedman confirmed Wednesday that St. Christopher’s will remain open.

Drexel University looks to block the closure

Hahnemann has long been a teaching institution for nurses and doctors. 

Drexel University President John Fry said they will do everything possible to prevent what he calls "the precipitous and unilateral closure of Hahnemann University Hospital."

Drexel trains its medical students and residents at Hahnemann, and a new class of residents was set to start next week.

While the legal dispute is in Common Pleas Court, Hahnemann’s parent company, AAHS, has since retained a high-end Philadelphia lawyer who specializes in restructuring and bankruptcy code.

"We are going to work our best to help the employees there transition to other health care positions," Kenney added. "The fortunate thing is that this is such a heavy health care economy and industry that we think we have a good opportunity to help people transition to the next phase of their careers."


CORRECTION:  A previous version of this story reported that the hospital will close on Aug. 25.
KYW Newsradio's Steve Tawa and Mark Abrams contributed to this report.