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Mercy Hospital in West Philadelphia faces closure as an inpatient facility

The decision, forced by financial pressures, comes eight months after Hahnemann University Hospital's owners announced the closure of that Center City institution.

The Mercy Catholic Medical Center – Mercy Philadelphia Campus on 54th Street in West Philadelphia on Nov. 5, 2019. The facility faces closure as an inpatient facility amid financial pressures.
The Mercy Catholic Medical Center – Mercy Philadelphia Campus on 54th Street in West Philadelphia on Nov. 5, 2019. The facility faces closure as an inpatient facility amid financial pressures.Read moreMICHAEL BRYANT / Staff Photographer

Trinity Health expects to end inpatient services at its 157-bed Mercy Catholic Medical Center-Mercy Philadelphia Campus, a Catholic stalwart that has served as a health-care safety net for poor families in West Philadelphia for more than 100 years.

“After careful consideration, we have come to the financial realization that our Mercy Philadelphia campus simply cannot continue operating in an acute-care capacity over the long term,” Trinity Health Mid-Atlantic spokesperson Ann D’Antonio said Wednesday. “This is not a decision we have taken lightly. It is, however, the decision we are called to make.”

No date for closure has been set.

The potential closure of Mercy Philadelphia, which employs 900, as an acute-care hospital would follow the demise of Hahnemann University Hospital last year and St. Joseph’s Hospital in 2016.

Mercy Philadelphia — which opened as Misericordia Hospital in 1918 as a mission of the Sisters of Mercy — has a very high load of Medicaid and Medicare patients and a high percentage of uncompensated care, according to the Pennsylvania Health Care Cost Containment Council. Those factors make it harder for hospitals to operate at a profit.

Hospital officials said the facility has lost money for six of the last seven years. They also said Mercy Philadelphia has lost a quarter of its patient volume since 2013. The hospital’s occupancy rate fell to 67.8% for the year ended June 30, 2018, from 74.5% five years earlier.

That decline was driven in part by the long-term trend toward the delivery of health care on an outpatient basis, a shift that is making it harder for many hospitals to keep their beds full.

That trend has contributed to a 33% reduction since the late 1990s in the number of licensed acute-care hospital beds in Philadelphia, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Health.

As part of an effort to remain viable, Trinity, which is based in Michigan and is one of the nation’s largest nonprofit hospital chains, announced in early 2018 a $15 million expansion of the emergency department at Mercy Philadelphia, which is at 501 S. 54th St. It opened last fall but wasn’t enough.

“In the coming months, we will begin the slow, deliberate and informed process of transforming our campus away from an inpatient hospital, shifting toward a model that can better and more sustainably serve the West Philadelphia community in the future. While we do not yet have all the answers, we promise to keep our patients, physicians and colleagues informed throughout every step of this process,” D’Antonio said in an emailed statement.

In 2018, Mercy Philadelphia’s emergency department had more than 48,000 visits, nearly as many as Hahnemann’s ER. Pennsylvania law does not allow freestanding emergency departments, which means that the busy department would go away if inpatient services stop.

A new Philadelphia law, enacted last year in response to Hahnemann’s abrupt and chaotic closure, requires 180 days’ notice of a planned hospital closure. State law calls for 90 days between the approval of a closure plan by the state Health Department and actual closure. No time frame has been set on what will happen at Mercy.

But late last year, Mercy announced plans to close the hospital’s crisis center for mental-health emergencies, just a month after it closed a similar facility at the Mercy Fitzgerald Campus in Darby. The hospital voluntarily relinquished its license after its center failed a November inspection, and was cited by the state for overusing restraints.

Trinity is expected to shift much of the inpatient care provided at Mercy Philadelphia to its 188-bed Mercy Fitzgerald, which is less than three miles away in Delaware County.

City Councilmember Jamie R. Gauthier, whose district includes Mercy Philadelphia, said the hospital is a vital provider of care to that part of the city.

“We are proactively engaging Mercy, city officials, and other stakeholders to ensure that there is transparency in their plans, that hospital employees are supported, and that people in West and Southwest Philadelphia continue to get the medical care they need and deserve,” she said.