Tower Health’s sale of Jennersville and Brandywine Hospitals, announced just a few days before Thanksgiving, has collapsed because the buyer had no secure financing. Instead, the two Chester County hospitals will close, Tower officials said Thursday.
The closures, slated for Dec. 31 at Jennersville and Jan. 31 at Brandywine, will force residents of western Chester County, including those who live in poor sections of Pennsylvania’s wealthiest county, to travel farther for emergency care.
Of particular concern to health care experts is the loss of Brandywine’s inpatient psychiatric division, the only one in Chester County. It includes a well-known eating disorder unit that draws patients from other states who need hospital-level care, experts said.
Tower, which is trying to reverse its fortunes after an ill-fated expansion four years ago, said “no viable options” remained to continue operating the money-losing hospitals. Tower said it pulled the plug on its deal with Texas-based Canyon Atlantic Partners because Canyon neither showed “the necessary regulatory and operational preparedness, nor validated its financial ability, to complete this transaction and operate these hospitals.”
Canyon Atlantic officials did not respond to requests for comment.
The decision to close the hospitals is a remarkable turnabout for Tower, which on Nov. 22 announced the deal with Canyon Atlantic to keep the hospitals open — to the relief of Chester County officials. The chair of Tower’s board of directors, Tom Work, said the sale would “ensure continued, convenient access to care for the Jennersville and Brandywine communities.”
Instead, families who counted on those hospitals will have to cover significantly greater distances — some on public transportation — to receive hospital care. The closest hospital to Brandywine is Chester County Hospital in West Chester, 13 miles away. Paoli Hospital is 18 miles away.
Employment at Jennersville, in Penn Township, and Brandywine, in Caln Township, near Coatesville, has fallen 20% from a combined 1,018 workers a year ago to 810 recently. Tower said it expected remaining employees to find new jobs at other Tower hospitals or at Penn Medicine, which owns Chester County Hospital.
Furious elected officials
Elected officials in Chester County said they were blindsided by Thursday’s announcement.
“Today’s announcement from Tower Health is not only shocking, but a complete betrayal of what little trust was left between them and this community,” said State Rep. John Lawrence, a Republican whose district includes Jennersville. Lawrence and others had been relieved that Tower had found a way to keep the hospitals open.
“Now we learn that Tower was making a hollow promise as they failed to vet the proposed buyer, leaving our community in a lurch weeks before Christmas and their employees with nothing more than uncertainty and a severance check,” said Lawrence, whose childhood doctor had an office at Jennersville.
On Facebook, Chester County Commissioner Josh Maxwell blamed the closures on “gross incompetence” at Tower, criticizing Tower leadership for agreeing to sell the facilities to a company “that may or may not have even known how to run a hospital.”
In late September Tower originally announced plans to close Jennersville on Jan. 1.
When the emergency department there closes, nearby residents will have to drive 40 minutes for the next closest emergency services, Maxwell and other county commissioners said in a statement. Chester County Hospital is 23 miles from Jennersville. Christiana Hospital in Newark and Lancaster General are even farther. The absence of an ER in that part of Chester County could strain volunteer ambulance crews that will have to spend more time in transit to other ERs.
Residents at Jenner’s Pond, a retirement community near Jennersville Hospital, feel whipsawed by the news. “Lack of communication is the biggest thing. To have this dumped on us very quickly and then have it fixed and then have it taken away — you can use your imagination on what that feels like,” Jenner’s Pond resident Jeanne McClellan said.
For non-emergency care, thousands of residents of western Chester County already had shifted their allegiance to Chester County Hospital and Paoli Hospital. That added to the financial strain at Jennersville and Brandywine. Tower acquired Jennersville and Brandywine in 2017 as part of a $423 million deal for five small hospitals in Southeastern Pennsylvania. Tower is anchored by Reading Hospital in West Reading.
Gary R. Davis Jr., chief executive of ChesPenn Health Services and a family doctor who sees patients at ChesPenn’s clinic in Coatesville for low-income families, said Brandywine is a critical part of the health care infrastructure for his patients. “Even if they were able to keep emergency care, behavioral health services, that would be really significant,” he said.
While Brandywine offers general psychiatric care for individuals who also need acute physical care, it was best known for treating eating disorders and that will be a huge loss, said Caitlin Brady, who worked there as a behavioral therapist for more than a year before leaving in March.
“Now, anyone who needs inpatient eating disorder treatment will probably have to go out of state because even as it was we were getting people who were coming out of state, from the tri-state area because it was one of the very few facilities in the Northeast,” she said.