A Center City home belonging to the owner of the former Hahnemann University Hospital property was defaced just days after he and the city failed to come to an agreement on leasing the closed medical facility amid the coronavirus outbreak, and Mayor Jim Kenney said the California businessman was “trying to make a buck” off the pandemic.
On Monday, passersby noticed spray-painted letters spelling out “Joel Kills" and “Free Hahnemann” on Joel Freedman’s property on the 2100 block of Locust Street. Fliers fastened on a door appeared to read “Joel Freedman has blood on his hands” and “Open Hahnemann Hospital.” Philadelphia police said they responded to the block for reports of vandalism but could not provide any other information.
Freedman, through a spokesperson, called the vandalism “sad and uncalled for” and reiterated that his offer to lease the 500-bed hospital for nearly $1 million a month was fair.
“Vandalism or hate is never acceptable, nor will it solve any problems, rather it is a time to come together and work collectively for the best of the community," said spokesperson Sam Singer. "That is what Mr. Freedman attempted to do, and the city determined the site was not suitable for its needs.”
Officials are trying to rapidly expand the city’s hospital capacity in preparation for a surge of coronavirus patients. During recent negotiations, Freedman offered to rent the former Hahnemann building, which has sat empty since the hospital closed last summer, to the city for about $910,000 a month in rent and fees. Singer said last week the offer was “a hugely, deeply, discounted rate compared to other known comparable situations.”
But Kenney said the price was far too high. Managing Director Brian Abernathy said Freedman was “looking at this as a business transaction rather than providing an imminent and important need to the city and our residents.”
The dispute received national attention as cities throughout the country look for hospital overflow space and the coronavirus threatens to overwhelm the American health-care system.
On Monday, Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders weighed in on Twitter, echoing Philadelphia Councilmember Helen Gym’s call for the city to use eminent domain to reopen Hahnemann. In July, Sanders rallied against the hospital’s closure and for his Medicare for All platform outside the North Broad Street building.
“We are facing estimates of over 100,000 coronavirus deaths,” Sanders tweeted Monday. “It is outrageous that a Philadelphia real estate investor who closed a hospital is now trying to gouge the city to reopen it.”
On social media, critics of Freedman have posted negative memes and even shared the address of his Philadelphia home, which has been for sale since the fall. The 5,500-square-foot property was initially listed at nearly $3.5 million, but the price was cut to just under $3 million earlier this month, according to Zillow. Freedman also owns property in Southern California.
When Hahnemann closed, it left thousands of employees out of work and sent medical residents scrambling to find new hospitals. It also left many vulnerable low-income Philadelphians without their neighborhood hospital.
As the pandemic intensifies, Freedman remains open to conversations with the city or the state, Singer said, and wants to help.
Kenney, however, has indicated the conversations are over.
“We had to go back and forth ... with a multi-millionaire owner who wanted to maximize his profits,” Kenney said on NPR on Sunday. “So we decided, rather than continue to go back and forth with him, we moved on.”
Meanwhile on Monday, Federal Emergency Management Agency officials were turning Temple University’s Liacouras Center into a 250-bed emergency hospital. Kenney said the university made the center, as well as other campus facilities, available at no cost.