Sen. Bernie Sanders came to Philadelphia on Monday to slam the owners of Hahnemann University Hospital for putting corporate profits over human life.
“The possible closure of Hahnemann has nothing to do with healthcare; it has everything to do with greed — corporate greed,” said the 2020 presidential candidate.
Sanders stumped for his universal healthcare proposal, “Medicare For All,” at a rally that drew a few hundred people in front of the failing hospital, which employs around 2,500 people and has upwards of 50,000 emergency room visits a year.
Sanders called on Joel Freedman, a California investment banker and chief executive of the hospital’s parent company American Academic Health System (AAHS), not to sell off the institution for its prime real estate but work with local and state officials to keep it open.
AAHS was expected to shutdown in September.
Sanders appeared in Philadelphia soon after Mayor Jim Kenney and Gov. Tom Wolf pledged to provide $15 million to cover any shortfalls in services as the hospital goes through bankruptcy proceedings.
The mayor and governor also called on Congress and the Trump Administration to match that new funding and cover the nearly $40 million in debt Hahnemann owes to Philadelphia and the state.
“We need the federal government to step up and join us in protecting these patients and workers,” Kenney and Wolf said in a joint statement.
Freedman applauded the city and state’s financial contribution in an email, but said it was not enough to not keep Hahnemann’s doors open.
“Although the new support announced by the governor and mayor today did not arise in time to save Hahnemann, the $15 million of funding will aid in the transition of care resulting from Hahnemann’s closure in support Philadelphia’s most underserved and vulnerable communities,” Freedman said.
Freedman declined to comment further.
After it purchased Hahnemann in January 2018, AAHS declared bankruptcy last month, citing financial loses. Critics contend that Freedman was seeking to close the hospital in an attempt to develop the institution’s real estate on North Broad Street. AAHS also owns St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children, which is expected to remain open.
The afternoon rally outside Hahnemann Hospital closed down portions of North Broad Street for more than two hours. Supporters held signs and yelled chants that included “Keep it open!” Nurses, doctors, and other hospital employees — wearing white medical jackets, scrubs or other hospital uniforms — also attended.
Sanders, an Independent senator from Vermont who is running for the presidency as a Democrat, said he would soon introduce legislation to establish a $20 billion emergency trust fund that could help states and communities purchase hospitals that are in financial distress.
“In my view, any time a hospital is put up for sale in America, the local community or the state must have the right to buy it first with emergency financial assistance,” Sanders said.
Susan Bowes, president of the hospital’s nurses association, said the closure was a “public health crisis.”
“In a city with one of the highest poverty rates in the nation, with rising gun violence and the opioid epidemic, the closure of Hahnemann Hospital will cost people’s lives,” Bowes said.
At-large City Council Councilwoman Helen Gym said Hahnemann’s closure was “created by man-made failures,” and comes at the expense of profits for private equity firms and Wall Street.
Gym also called on Wolf to do more.
“It’s time for you [Wolf] to get out of Harrisburg and come down to our city,” she said. “We are your people. This is our movement. And our city needs you to be with us right now.”
As employees and politicians pressured AAHS to keep the hospital open, operations were winding down. The hospital no longer accepts trauma patients. Last week, the hospital began closing its labor and delivery unit.
Quenetta Cooper, a unit clerk in the labor and delivery unit, was among those at the rally. The 18-year employee said the final patient in her unit was transported to another hospital on Monday and she was not certain whether there would be work for her on Tuesday.
“I’m going to come to work,” she said, “until they tell me not to.”