Dr. Walter Harris

Dr. Walter Harris is the first African American to lead Drexel’s Department of Ophthalmology. — drexel university

Roughly 40% of the physicians and clinical staff at Drexel University will lose their jobs as part of the planned closure of Hahnemann University Hospital.

That includes Dr. Walter Harris, the first African American to lead Drexel’s Department of Ophthalmology, and the five ophthalmologists, two optometrists and nine residents he works with.

Drexel’s ophthalmology clinical practice will close by Aug. 23, Dr. Daniel V. Schidlow, senior vice president for medical affairs at the Drexel University College of Medicine, said in an email to staff.

“I thought that of all of the departments that ours would be the safest because we have one of the lightest footprints at Hahnemann,” Harris said.

“We rarely admit patients to a hospital and most of us have privileges at other facilities. I thought that we are going to lose the residency program because those are Hahnemann employees and we couldn’t find a way to transfer the residency for ophthalmology …, but that we would regroup as a clinical practice, in which the medical students from Drexel could rotate through.”

Now, Harris, who has patient appointments booked through November, is concerned that patients will be impacted by a gap in care.

“The problem is we’ve been given four weeks to close the department. Other departments have been given six months,” Harris said.

“The question is how do you have proper transference of care and continuity of care in just four weeks time. It’s hard to get an appointment with an ophthalmologist if you have good health insurance. What happens when you have Medical Assistance and you basically got four weeks to find another ophthalmologist?”

Patients will be notified directly about the department’s pending closure. It’s not clear how many patients will be impacted.

Before Drexel announced that it would close Hahnemann, plans were underway to merge Drexel University Physicians with Tower Medical Group to form a combined academic medical group.

“Due to the irreversible damage that Hannehman’s closure will cause to our physician practice plan, the merger is now more crucial than ever,” Schidlow said.

“As a result, Drexel is forced to eliminate certain health care service lines and discontinue positions of affected physicians and clinical staff.”

Tower Health Medical Group plans to offer employment to approximately 60% of the affected physicians and clinical staff at Drexel’s current practices or at Tower locations in Reading, Chestnut Hill and the Philadelphia suburbs.

Harris, who has led Drexel’s ophthalmology department since May 1, said he will stay in Philadelphia and seek other employment opportunities.

Harris has owned his private practice, Rittenhouse Eye Associates, which Drexel purchased, for 30 years. During that time, he also has been on the staff at several local hospitals, including Hahnemann and Willis Eye Hospital.

ajones@phillytrib.com (215) 893-5747

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