The legal battle is continuing, but in the wake of its bankruptcy filing in June, Hahnemann University Hospital, a fixture on Broad Street for more than 90 years, is clearly phasing out. It discharged its last inpatient on July 26. Original plans called for the facility to close entirely early next month.
Most of the recent news has focused on Hahnemann’s decades of financial problems and its role as a safety net for Philadelphia’s poor. But long before bankruptcies made it a business story, Hahnemann played an interesting historical role in a city rich with medical institutions.
Hahnemann’s roots were in homeopathy, a popular form of alternative medicine in the 1800s that offered quite a contrast to the mainstream treatments of its day.
The hospital got its name from Samuel Hahnemann, a German doctor who created homeopathy. He concluded that diseases could best be treated with extremely diluted drugs that caused the same symptoms. Over the ensuing years, science has not been kind to Hahnemann’s principles, but homeopathy had clear value in the days before the germ therapy was widely accepted, a time when bloodletting, purging, and heavy medication use were common, said Naomi Rogers, a Yale University professor of the history of medicine and history. She wrote a book on the Philadelphia hospital: An Alternative Path: The Making and Remaking of Hahnemann Medical College and Hospital of Philadelphia.
Dr. Hahnemann, she said, was particularly frustrated by the way physicians of his time used drugs. If one wasn’t working, they’d add more. This did not seem scientific to him, and he set out to study what medications did one by one. His idea that tiny amounts of a substance were helpful was ridiculed, but, some historians point out, the placebo effect was sometimes preferable to the overly aggressive approach that other doctors were using. During an annual parade of students from various city medical schools, crowds would heckle homeopathic students with taunts of “sugar pills.” Rogers said Hahnemann’s message that doctors should be cautious about drugs was one of his most powerful ideas.
As the germ theory gained traction in the late 19th century, it split orthodox medicine as well as homeopathy, but gradually won over doctors of all stripes.
The Flexner Report in 1910, a highly influential document that called for higher standards in medical education and was critical of what it called “medical sects” like homeopathy, reduced interest in homeopathic medical education, Rogers said. Students “voted with their feet” and went elsewhere.
Hahnemann survived by admitting smart students that other schools rejected: Jews, Puerto Ricans, and Italian Catholics, Rogers said. They didn’t care about homeopathy, and class work shifted to their interests. By the middle of the last century, homeopathy was gone. At that time, Hahnemann University Hospital was particularly strong in heart care. Physician George Geckler was famous for studying heart sounds and tying them to particular diseases. Surgeon Charles Bailey pioneered heart valve repair. The hospital went on to have a strong heart transplant program and was among a small group of hospitals to experiment with a totally implantable artificial heart.
In more recent decades, the hospital’s fortunes turned. Its staff has coped with tumultuous changes, including two sales and two bankruptcies that reflect Philadelphia’s highly competitive medical landscape and mounting economic pressures. Its impact will continue through thousands of medical professionals who worked and trained there.
Timeline: 171 years of Hahnemann history
1848 — Homeopathic Medical College of Pennsylvania opens to a class of 15 students in rented rooms on Arch Street. It is based on the principles of German physician Samuel Hahnemann, the founder of homeopathic medicine. He had died in 1843.
1850 — Female Medical College of Pennsylvania is established. It later becomes Woman’s Medical College.
1852 — With the support of local proponents of homeopathy, Homeopathic Hospital of Philadelphia, a 40-bed, four-story building, opens at 24th and Chestnut Streets.
1862 — A hospital is added behind the homeopathic college, which had moved to Filbert Street. It is intended to provide homeopathic treatments to Civil War soldiers and is closed after the war.
1867 — A faculty rift leads to the formation of Hahnemann Medical College.
1869 — The two homeopathic medical schools merge under the Hahnemann name.
1871 — A new, larger Homeopathic Hospital of Philadelphia is built. It is located on medical school grounds, but is independent.
1888 — Hahnemann professor Rufus B. Weaver dissects the complete nervous system for the first time. It later wins him a gold medal at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago.
1890 — The medical school, which has severed ties with the older homeopathic hospital, opens Hahnemann Hospital at 15th and Vine Streets.
1920 — Hahnemann opens the country’s first school of X-ray technology.
1928 — A new Hahnemann Hospital, designed for 735 beds, opens at the present location, 230 N. Broad St. It is the first “skyscraper” teaching hospital in the United States.
Nov. 12, 1929 — Actress and future Princess of Monaco Grace Kelly is born at Hahnemann.
1941 — Hahnemann Medical College admits its first female students.
1945 — Homeopathy courses are no longer required at the medical school.
1957 — A Hahnemann doctor, Charles Philamore Bailey, makes the cover of Time magazine for his pioneering work in cardiac surgery.
1959 — The last teacher of homeopathy retires.
1963 — Hahnemann doctors perform the region’s first kidney transplant.
1970 — Woman’s Medical College becomes Medical College of Pennsylvania and begins admitting men.
1970 — Hahnemann establishes the first major outpatient dialysis unit in Pennsylvania.
1976 — The first bone marrow transplant in the tristate area is performed at Hahnemann.
1981 — The medical college becomes a university. The hospital gets its present name.
1986 — Hahnemann opens Philadelphia’s first Level 1 Trauma Center for adults.
1986 — Supermodel Gia Carangi dies of AIDS at the hospital. She later is the subject of the book Thing of Beauty: The Tragedy of Supermodel Gia.
1991 — St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children is acquired by Allegheny Health Education & Research Foundation (AHERF).
1993 — Allegheny Health acquires Hahnemann. With the Allegheny purchase, Medical College of Pennsylvania and Hahnemann Medical College combine to form MCP Hahnemann School of Medicine.
Feb. 21, 1996 — Vanguard founder John Bogle, 66, receives a transplanted heart at Hahnemann. He lives 22 more years.
July 21, 1998 — Eight of AHERF’s Philadelphia-area hospitals, including Hahnemann and St. Christopher’s, along with the chain’s medical university and hundreds of doctors’ practices, file for bankruptcy in what is at the time the nation’s largest nonprofit health-care bankruptcy.
Nov. 10, 1998 — Tenet Healthcare Corp., a for-profit firm, buys Hahnemann, St. Christopher’s, and six other Allegheny hospitals in the region after a tumultuous bidding period. Drexel University takes over the professional schools, including MCP Hahnemann School of Medicine. Eventually, Tenet’s local holdings dwindle to just Hahnemann and St. Chris.
August 2000 — Former President Gerald Ford is treated for a stroke and infected tongue he suffered at the Republican National Convention.
Nov. 5, 2001 — A patient at Hahnemann becomes the fifth in the world to receive a new type of totally implantable artificial heart. The patient came to regret his decision. His widow later sues the hospital and the device maker.
2002 — MCP Hahnemann School of Medicine is renamed Drexel University College of Medicine.
2017 — Hahnemann becomes the second academic medical center in the U.S. to offer a transgender surgery fellowship training program.
2018 — American Academic Health System LLC purchases Hahnemann and St. Christopher’s from Tenet for $170 million.
June 26, 2019 — Officials representing American Academic Health System announce that Hahnemann will close “on or about” Sept. 6.
June 30, 2019 — Hahnemann University Hospital files for bankruptcy in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the District of Delaware. An official for its owner, Philadelphia Academic Health System LLC, a subsidiary of American Academic Health System, says the company wants to restructure St. Christopher’s or sell it with the goal of keeping it open.
July 26, 2019 — The hospital discharges its last inpatient.
Aug. 16, 2019 — Hahnemann closes its emergency department.