Hahnemann University Hospital, founded in 1848 and named for the German physician Samuel Hahnemann, is slated to close Sept. 6. It moved once since opening, a block south on North Broad Street to its current location at Broad and Vine.
Its decline has been slow, stretching over decades rather than days and months. But in the last 10 years, the institution carved out a niche as a safety-net hospital. Hahnemann filled that void in a needed area with a significant homeless population and many patients without health insurance. Now these patients will seek care elsewhere.
For those who worked there — and now stand to lose their jobs — it was often with a full sense of purpose, a sense of satisfaction at the end of the day that there was meaning in their labor, that it wasn’t just about the paycheck. I spent some time last week talking to Hahnemann employees about their thoughts on the planned closure, and what the hospital means to them. Here are a few of their stories.
— Michael J. Stephen, M.D., associate professor of medicine at Drexel University and Hahnemann University staff physician
I grew up in Northeast Philadelphia, and have worked here 39 years. I started as a staff nurse and then worked my way up to medical ICU director. I couldn’t imagine working with a better group of people. There have been some very hard times before, like the bankruptcy with Allegheny in the 1990s, but obviously nothing as bad as this.
There are so many stories to tell. I met John Travolta here; [he] was visiting a friend. I took care of Gia Carangi. She told me she was a model. I didn’t believe her. Then she showed me her pictures. But taking care of the regular people of the city was the most rewarding.
We had one patient, a pregnant woman from Vietnam who worked at a food cart, came into the ICU spitting up blood. We didn’t think she was going to live. She had an emergent cesarean section right at the bedside. The baby did great, but we lost the woman’s pulse and thought that was it. Then, out of nowhere, the monitor started to record a heart rate. A few months later she came back with her baby and a ton of food from her cart for everybody. I have hundreds of stories like that. Maybe a thousand.
— Pat Torrey, medical ICU nurse manager. The ICU manager must ensure staffing 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, listening to nurses’ problems and troubleshooting their schedules.
I started working at Hahnemann in 2001, some 18 years ago. I was 19 years old, and it was my first real job. I’ve seen a lot of people come and go in my department, but for some reason I stuck with it. I think it was because of the people. I made a lot of friends here, and it was a home to me. I didn’t want to give that up, even when I got frustrated with the work sometimes. I’m not angry about the closure, because I know it’s a business just like any other. But I was here almost 19 years, and starting at age 19, that’s half of my life, and all of my work life.
— Zacchaeus Keene, environmental service employee. Environmental services keep the hospital clean and running well, managing an extraordinary amount of hospital waste to ensure a safe and sanitary workplace.
I grew up in Philadelphia, went to the University of Pennsylvania for nursing, and this was my first job out of school. I’ve been here seven years now. Being born in the city, it’s meant a lot to me to be serving its people. So it’s that much sadder to me that this is happening. But it seems like it’s just a microcosm of what’s happening in general.
Health care is now a corporate business. The business model here just didn’t change. Maybe that’s why so many people loved it here. It’s sad, though, because who will take care of these people that have so many problems? The mental-health needs of the city aren’t being met now, and certainly won’t after the closure. Right now I’m more sad than angry.
— Kip Powell, medical intensive care unit nurse. Medical intensive care unit nurses take care of the hospital’s sickest patients.
I came to Hahnemann for residency because it was close to home, and I have family in the area. That’s so important when you just need a warm meal or a place to do laundry. I also got a great feeling during my interview, that this was a family that would take care of you. It hasn’t disappointed.
I’ve been here three years, and am set to graduate in a week, so it’s where I learned to become a doctor. Becoming a doctor isn’t just about medical decision-making. It’s about learning when to put your hand on somebody’s shoulder, how to break bad news, when to push somebody to do more when you think they can. I learned that here at Hahnemann. I liked it so much, I signed on to be a staff physician, and I have a dream to do a fellowship in pulmonary and critical care medicine. It certainly feels more like a dream right now with this upheaval.
I wanted to stay at Hahnemann to contribute, and now that’s not going to happen. I think the hospital closing is a big disservice to the city. The community deserves better.
— Sondra Mendelsohn, third-year medical resident. Medical residents typically work up to 80 hours a week as apprenticing physicians, for substantially less money than board-certified physicians.
I grew up in Sierra Leone. I arrived in this country on Sept. 3, 2001, the week before the attacks of 9/11. I come from a war-torn country, so unfortunately an attack as horrible as this wasn’t foreign to me or my family. Despite the shock in the first week, it has been a godsend living here. I am a single mother because my husband was killed back in Africa. But I raised four kids on my own, and I was able to do it because of my job at Hahnemann. It changed my life, and allowed me to buy my house and put my kids through school. I never missed a day of work and never filed for unemployment. Hopefully I don’t have to do that now. The city has been amazing as well. It welcomes immigrants.
— Seray Koroma, medical assistant. Medical assistants perform many crucial support tasks in the hospital, including changing sheets, cleaning up urine, checking blood sugar, and running constant errands.
I grew up in Philadelphia and went to Temple. My parents were Russian immigrants and stressed the importance of education and hard work. I came to Hahnemann to do my residency and pulmonary fellowship over 40 years ago. I never left. I’m a Hahnemann lifer. It’s the only hospital I’ve ever really worked in.
I never thought we’d see this place close. Despite all the rumors, I never thought it would close. I could say that a thousand times. I just thought it was too important to the community. It’s been a privilege to work here and serve the community. It’s a huge loss. I just don’t know what else to say.
— Robert Promisloff, pulmonary and critical care physician. Physicians are, in some ways, the least vulnerable to Hahnemann’s possible closure. With an advanced degree, a great job market, and the prestige of the profession, they will get other jobs. But they will lose the deep connections they have built at Hahnemann over years.
I’m going to keep this brief because I’m pissed off. I’ve been at Hahnemann for 40 years. It’s the only job I’ve ever had. I came here straight from Gloucester County College in New Jersey. We’ve been a team, a family here. You don’t find that other places. I told that to the staff. But on the last day, if there is a last day, I’m going to bring beer and vodka. And I’m going to need it, because I’m pissed off.
— Mary Ellen Novack, nurse manager. Nurse managers make schedules, troubleshoot problems, keep physicians in line, and have to retain staff — find the right people and keep them happy in a city with a glut of other competitive nursing jobs.
I came to this country from Haiti 26 years ago, and have worked at Hahnemann hospital for the past 16 years. I started out in New York City, and I don’t want to put anybody or anywhere down, but let’s just say that moving to Philadelphia and taking the job here was one of the smartest decisions of my life.
For the past 16 years, Hahnemann has been my second home, my extended family. If the hospital closes, I will miss my family here. But I don’t think it’s going to close. I think there could still be a miracle here. Miracles happen in this country, I know from my own story. So that’s why I don’t think it will close.