Hahnemann University Hospital rally

Hadas Kuznits/KYW Newsradio

'You go through us first': Nurses, lawmakers rally to save Hahnemann

June 27, 2019 - 7:39 am
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UPDATED: 3:15 p.m.

Editor's note: This story has been updated to reflect that the state has ordered Hahnemann to cease and desist plans to close the hospital, as of Thursday afternoon. To read more, click here.

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PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — Hundreds of nurses, union members and lawmakers gathered at City Hall Thursday morning to urge city officials to keep Hahnemann University Hospital afloat  and their efforts have been heard.

Related: Hahnemann to close, emergency services set to end Monday

As of Thursday afternoon, Pennsylvania Secretary of Health Rachel Levine has ordered Hahnemann University Hospital and its owners to cease and desist plans to close the hospital.

Protesters called on the state — Gov. Tom Wolf, in particular — to take action and make the hospital a public institution rather than for-profit.

Some union members handed out flyers ahead of the rally to Hahnemann employees, letting them know about it and a Friday bus trip to Harrisburg. The union and state representatives and senators from Philadelphia called on Wolf to appoint an independent monitor to run the hospital's operations and finances for some time, and eventually oversee the sale.

Uncertainty weighs heavy on employees

"I'm still hopeful there might be an 11th-hour save," said Joe Berger, one of the thousands of Hahnemann employees who could be out of a job.

He's been an anesthetist for 20 years at Hahnemann, a place he thought he would retire from.

"I'm kind of numb to it. I was one of these fellas who was gonna stay till the very end," he said. "There’s always been a feeling of camaraderie and family."

Berger's daughter also works in the emergency room. 

"She's devastated," he said. "We love it here. We love the people."

Emotions run high at rally

Among the hundreds at Thursday's rally was Dr. Elizabeth Renza, a Hahnemann bariatric surgeon. While she's worried about her future, she said she's more concerned about the patients and the 500 residents that come through the hospital.

"We train other people how to take good care of patients. I love this hospital, and I love our residency," she said. "Watching it be decimated — it's awful."

She said it'd be a disaster to close the hospital.

"Our surgical residents are going to be scattered to the wind, and they've become like my children," she added, choking up at the mere thought. "It's really hard to see this fall apart."

Mary Chong, a Hahnemann staff pharmacist, said the swift announcement of the hospital's closure is hard to stomach.

"I've been here since I was a student, and it feels like family," she said. "It feels like a second family here."

Chong added this crisis couldn't come at a worse time.

"We get all of the traumas that come in, especially at the Art Museum when there are events going on," she noted. "So when we close, where are they going to go to?"

Protesters vowed to fight against "predatory for-profit corporations." The hospital was bought a year-and-a-half ago by Joel Freedman, CEO of American Academic Health Systems. People are concerned that Hahnemann's owners want the hospital to go bankrupt so they can justify replacing the Level 1 trauma center with luxury condos, which Councilmember Helen Gym plans to fight.

"I will tell Joel Freedman this: We may not have his bank account, but we sure do control this City Hall," said Gym, "and if you are going to come through and try to sell that building, you go through us first."

Hahnemann closure: What you need to know

Hahnemann announced Wednesday that it was shutting down because of what it calls "continuing, unsustainable financial losses." The hospital said it would close on or around Sept. 6, but a letter obtained by KYW Newsradio indicated that some emergency services could be cut starting this weekend.

The letter, signed by Mayor Jim Kenney and the city Health Commissioner Thomas Farley, was sent to Freedman of American Academic Health System, which owns Hahnemann.

The city says hospitals can't close without the health commissioner's approval, according to a 1969 regulation. The health commissioner needs to see a clear plan that would mitigate any public health issues that would pop up when a hospital closes its doors. 

The city says it will sue to enforce the rule if need be, and officials would like to see something in writing from Hahnemann.

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KYW Newsradio's Tim Jimenez and Hadas Kuznits contributed to this report.