Hahnemann could be potential space for virus patients, but city officials say owner is being ‘unreasonable’

252 cases confirmed in Philly

KYW Staff
March 24, 2020 - 2:10 pm

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UPDATED: 8:43 p.m.

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — At a daily press briefing on Tuesday, Philadelphia officials complained that their efforts to prepare for a potential surge in cases are being stymied by what they called “unreasonable” demands by the owner of the shuttered Hahnemann University Hospital.

Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley said that the city has confirmed 77 new cases for a total of 252 in the city.

Holiday Inn
Kristen Johanson/KYW Newsradio
As a result, officials say they’ve rented out the Center City Holiday Inn as quarantine space for homeless people and others unable to quarantine at home.

They are attempting to re-open Hahnemann to provide additional beds, but Managing Director Brian Abernathy said the hospital’s owner, California-based private equity investor Joel Freedman, has made it difficult.

“I think he’s looking at this as a business transaction rather than providing imminent and important aid to our residents,” he said. “He has at least come down to a six-month lease, which is more reasonable, though their rental price is not.”

Freedman is asking $2.4 million for a six-month lease. Sam Singer, a spokesman for Freedman, said Freedman is disappointed in Abernathy’s comments.

“We’re disappointed in the city’s remarks because we want to be helpful,” Singer said. “(Freedman) wants the community to benefit from the use of this hospital but also wants to safeguard his investment."

Singer said the $2.4 million he’s asking for is equivalent to $27 per room per day. 

Singer said Freedman has been frustrated by the city’s process but is going to keep the lines of communication open. Abernathy said the city will have a counter-offer to him shortly.​

Freedman separated the property from the operations of the hospital before declaring the hospital bankrupt last summer. 

Related: The latest coronavirus news from Pennsylvania and New Jersey

Meanwhile, Mayor Jim Kenney made it clear he will not heed the White House if it recommends lifting stay-at-home restrictions before the virus is contained.

“Our health department and other experts are absolutely certain that ignoring the restrictions we have imposed will further spread the virus,” he said. “Leadership from the top has been lacking.”

Of the 252 positive cases, 23 are hospitalized. Farley said there are positive cases among young adults, but older adults are more likely to be hospitalized.

He also said about 80 people have been tested at the facility at Citizens Bank Park, which is open Tuesday from 1 to 6 p.m. The South Philly testing facility will not be open on Wednesday because of weather.

School district preparing for extended closure

The School District  of Philadelphia wants to get Chromebooks or laptops for all students at home during the coronavirus closure to connect kids with their teachers. 

Superintendent William Hite said the district is negotiating with vendors to buy more computers. 

"We would essentially redistribute the ones that are in schools that are serving as classroom sets and then acquire the additional ones, needed to provide all students if necessary with a device," he said.

In a conference call with reporters, Hite said talks are also going on with internet providers for mobile hot spots for students who do not have access at home. That's roughly half of the student population. 

He said the precise number of laptops needed and how much they would cost is still being determined. 

Hite hopes to begin distribution within two weeks.

Schools are closed statewide through April 6, but Hite said the earliest Philadelphia students would return would be April 13, because of a previously scheduled spring break. And if the closure lasts much longer, Hite said he can envision Pennsylvania scrapping in-person instruction for the rest of the year.

Hand-washing stations for homeless

The Philadelphia Streets Department and several nonprofit partners are installing four outdoor hand-washing stations to improve access to sanitation for those living on the street.

One of the partners, Mural Arts, is also installing temporary billboards at the stations with information about preventing the spread of the coronavirus.

One new station will be at Broad Street Ministry on South Broad Street, which is also providing meals.

The others will be in the 800 block of South Street, at 17th and Vine streets, and at the Somerset station of the Market-Frankford Line.

Resources for Philly residents

Eva Gladstein, Philadelphia deputy managing director for health and human services, said the pandemic is taking its toll on the bank accounts of a lot of households across the city.

“Clearly many of us will need financial counseling through this time, and afterward,” she added.

Gladstein advised residents to use the free nonprofit credit counseling service Clarifi to build a solid financial plan.

“The city partners with Clarifi to provide free one-on-one financial counseling that can help you develop a plan, talk to lenders, landlords, credit card companies, and find additional resources,” she said.

City program BenePhilly can also help Philadelphians apply to 19 different public benefits, like food or medical assistance.

Gladstein also reminded residents that they cannot be evicted from their homes during this time.

“You can call 911 and report an illegal self-help eviction to the police, or you can call the tenant help line” — 267-443-2500 — and they can assist you.”

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KYW Newsradio's Mike Denardo, Pat Loeb, Justin Udo and Eric Walter contributed to this report.