Philly hospital's plight spurs aid pledge, Sanders rally

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — A longtime Philadelphia teaching hospital will stop admitting emergency room patients this week as its impending closure drew pledges of millions in aid to the community Monday and condemnation during a rally at the hospital by Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders.

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Gov. Tom Wolf, Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney and Sanders laced into Hahnemann University Hospital's investment banker owner, blaming him for taking it into bankruptcy and moving to shut down the 496-bed hospital.

Joel Freedman insisted he tried to keep the money-losing hospital open, even exploring its transfer it to a not-for-profit organization. But those discussions weren't successful and no one else offered to take it over, Freedman said in a statement.

Wolf and Kenney pledged up to $15 million to help meet the health care needs of Hahnemann patients and the community, and they want the federal government to match that and cover the company's debts of $40 million to the state and city.

"I'm afraid if we don't do this right that there are going to be people who need acute care and aren't going to be able to get it when they need it," Wolf said Monday after a news conference in the Capitol on an unrelated topic.

Wolf and Kenney said it isn't responsible to give taxpayer money to Freedman and his venture capital firm, which bought Hahnemann and St. Christopher's Hospital for Children last year.

Wolf and Kenney have accused Freedman of taking Hahnemann into bankruptcy court to protect profits his companies extracted from the hospital and community.

Under the state Department of Health's oversight, Hahnemann will stop admitting patients from the emergency room Wednesday. Meanwhile, Hahnemann and a department-appointed management firm are writing a plan to bring the hospital to a safe and orderly closure, a department spokesman said.

The hospital is Drexel University College of Medicine's primary teaching hospital and traces its beginning back to 1848. It is home to almost 2,500 employees and another roughly 2,000 medical residents, fellows and rotating medical and nursing students.

Sanders, in a rally in front of hundreds outside the hospital, said Hahnemann's closure is an example of corporate greed in health care and called on Freedman to keep it open. He accused Freedman of wanting to cash in on Hahnemann's real estate and warned that Hahnemann's plight is a national problem.

"If Joel Freedman is able to shut down Hahnemann and make a huge profit by turning this hospital into luxury condos, it will send a signal to every vulture fund on Wall Street that they can do the same thing in community after community after community," Sanders told the crowd.

Sanders said that a Medicaid-for-All system he is proposing would protect hospitals in underserved areas and he pledged to introduce legislation to create a $20 billion emergency fund to help states and communities take over financially distressed hospitals.

Freedman's firm hopes to sell St. Christopher's to pay off Hahnemann's debts, its lawyers say.

Late June's bankruptcy filing said Hahnemann's finances were in unexpectedly bad condition when Freedman's firm took over last year and it saw a significant reduction in patient volumes, outpatient procedures and surgeries in 2018.

It also said delays in the state's payments, as well as a reduction in payments of approximately $17 million per year, hurt the hospital's finances.

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Associated Press reporter Mark Scolforo in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, contributed to this report.