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With Hahnemann closure, some Pennsylvania senators learn they can’t please everybody

Support is split between efforts to reopen the hospital and helping the sale of Hahnemann's residency programs to other area health systems go through.

Hahnemann University Hospital (right).
Hahnemann University Hospital (right).Read moreANTHONY PEZZOTTI / Staff Photographer

As Hahnemann University Hospital closes, some state lawmakers representing the Philadelphia region have put on their advocacy hats.

But the state senators, about a dozen of them, upset a labor union representing some of the 2,500 workers losing their jobs as a result of the Center City institution’s closure.

The senators’ mistake? They shot off a letter on Aug. 14 seeking Gov. Tom Wolf’s support for some of Philly’s largest health-care institutions — including Jefferson Health, Temple University Health System, and Einstein Healthcare Network — looking to buy Hahnemann’s highly sought doctors-in-training program.

Christine M. Tartaglione sent the letter with the signatures of 12 other Southeastern Pennsylvania senators attached. The problem: The residency program sale would effectively snuff out any embers of hope that a buyer could emerge to revive Hahnemann and save thousands of jobs.

The union representing more than 800 Hahnemann nurses made as much clear in their own letter to Wolf: “Selling Hahnemann’s medical resident slots to Jefferson and others violates federal law, effectively shuts down Hahnemann Hospital, and sets a dangerous precedent for urban safety-net hospitals.”

» READ MORE: The $55 million bid that won Hahnemann residency slots was ‘a big surprise’

Some of the 13 senators — Lawrence M. Farnese Jr., Sharif Street, Art Haywood, and Katie Muth — changed gears and sent a follow-up letter to the governor.

“Our support for the residency slots winning bid was predicated on the perceived lack of interest to keep Hahnemann open as an acute-care hospital,” the letter from Farnese’s office said.

A bankruptcy court hearing on the sale was held Wednesday in Wilmington (the judge’s decision is due Thursday). Representatives of two companies that say they want to buy Hahnemann and keep it open were present at the hearing.

Given the interest in reopening Hahnemann, Farnese and the three other senators asked Wolf to do what he can to keep the residency positions attached to Hahnemann. The state’s Department of Health has to approve the transfer of Hahnemann’s hospital license for the sale to go through.

“Saving Hahnemann should be the primary goal due to the 2,500 jobs that it generated and the quality care it provided to Philadelphians,” the Farnese letter said.

Beyond the politicians trying to please all sides, the back and forth highlights the fact that there’s no formal process in Pennsylvania — as in some other states, including New Jersey — for signing off on a hospital closure.

Half of the states have "certificate of need” programs designed to facilitate the planning for new acute-care hospitals. Some states also review closures. While the programs have no power to block a closure, they at least provide a public airing of whether a hospital is needed.

For example, three years after Virtua opened a 398-bed, $463 million hospital in Voorhees in 2011, the nonprofit system, the largest in South Jersey, decided to close its 95-bed hospital in Berlin, just 15 minutes away. The plan called for the retention of a satellite emergency department and outpatient services.

But before it could do so, it had to file an application with the State Health Planning Board, launching a months’ long process to review whether the closure would have an adverse impact on the availability of health-care services in the region served by Virtua-Berlin.

The board analyzed admissions trends at the Berlin hospital and others in the immediate area and concluded “that the health status of patients in Camden County or the region would not be compromised as a result of the closure.”

In addition, the board said the closure “would improve the viability of the remaining hospitals” because they would pick up business that would otherwise have gone to Virtua-Berlin.

Nothing like that exists in Pennsylvania.

» READ MORE: Hahnemann University Hospital: 171 years of Philadelphia medical history

It’s not even clear whether officials were formally monitoring whether other hospitals were able to meet Philadelphia’s health needs after Hahnemann stopped accepting patients in July.

The Pennsylvania Department of Health said Philadelphia officials would have to answer questions about whether Hahnemann’s closure was putting stress on Philadelphia’s health-care system as a whole.

The Philadelphia Department of Public Health did not respond to an emailed request for comment.