July 11, 2019

July 11, 2019

Large Crowd Rallies to Stop Private-Equity Hospital Closure in Philadelphia. Health professionals, patients, and lawmakers savaged private-equity baron Joel Freedman for the proposed closure of Hahnemann University Hospital at a noontime rally in Center City, Philadelphia, today. What looked to be over a thousand supporters and activists turned out, shutting down part of Broad Street and condemning Freedman as a "coward" and a "disgrace" who is prioritizing a lucrative real-estate scheme over the lives of patients.

The Prospect has a feature story today about this closure. Hahnemann, a 171-year-old hospital that primarily serves low-income patients (over half of them are on Medicaid), has been marked for closure 18 months after Freedman bought it. He split the hospital from the real estate and is poised to sell the buildings to the highest bidder, presumably for the conversion into luxury condos in a "gateway" community for gentrification.

I spoke with several health-care workers at the hospital who were furious with Freedman for scooping up Hahnemann and selling it off so quickly. "It's just so messed up that this is all happening," said Lauren McHugh, a registered nurse for 17 years with Hahnemann. "The city needs this hospital. I just heard that there are 800 pregnant women that have to find a new place to deliver their babies. We have frequent patients that have cried, 'Where am I going to go?' They don't know. No one knows."

Dawn Andonian, a career nurse, has spent four years in the Hahnemann operating room. "I thought it was strange how quickly the plug was pulled, only a couple weeks ago we were business as usual," she said, holding a sign about Freedman that said 'lock him up' on it. "Maybe [Freedman's] real estate firm is pushing him."

Speakers at the rally excoriated Freedman as heartless. "How many lives will we sacrifice over a business decision?" asked one doctor who spoke. Members of the Philadelphia City Council and the state legislature pledged to do whatever they could to stop the closure.

The situation is among the first instances of a private-equity firm selling off hospital property for real estate. This could feed a trend by the industry to find hospitals in urban areas attractive to developers and strip the assets.

"I don't know how he sleeps at night," said McHugh. "This seems to have been his plan all along, to buy this place, let it fail, and shut it down. It's sick, is what it is."

I also spoke with Maria Garcia-Bulkley, a cancer patient who has been receiving chemotherapy treatment at Hahnemann since February. "I would like to complete my last round of chemo in August so I could be with the people that I trust and that have taken very good care of me." Through tears, she told me about the amazing care she's received at the hospital. "They're the best."