‘Shut down our hospital? Hell, No!’ say Philly workers, community

In a classic case of capitalism not caring about the needs of the community, Hahnemann University Hospital’s hedge fund owners announced June 26 they would close down the historic Philadelphia medical facility on Sept. 6, eliminating up to 3,000 jobs.

On June 28, the Pennsylvania Department of Health ordered Hahnemann owners to “cease and desist” closure plans, and Gov. Tom Wolf offered $19 million in exemptions for taxes and fees. 

Two days later, investment banker Joel Freedman responded for the owners by filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy for both Hahnemann (496 beds) and the other Philadelphia medical facility the hedge fund owns, St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children (188 beds). 

A July 2 flier issued by the Pennsylvania Association of Staff Nurses and Allied Professionals (PASNAP) revealed that Freedman’s hedge fund backers are Apollo ($32 billion in assets) and Colliers ($26 billion in assets). 

Hahnemann’s workers, provide services for over 40,000 patients annually. 

The workers are represented by PASNAP (Penn. Association of Staff Nurses and Allied Professionals) and District 1199C of the National Union of Hospital and Health Care Employees, provide services for over 40,000 patients annually. 

“Hahnemann is a safety-net hospital that for decades has provided care to an underserved community,” said PASNAP President Maureen May, RN. “We cannot allow predatory, for-profit companies to plunder such a valuable public good. It is incumbent upon the state and city to step in and guarantee that the poor and working people who depend upon this hospital continue to receive the care that they need.” (F3News, June 27)

Fightback begins against ‘corporate capitalization’

Significantly, the bankruptcy filing did not include the real estate occupied by Hahnemann, which was founded in the center of the city in 1848. In 1995, Hahnemann merged with Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania, founded in 1850 and the first medical college to award women a medical degree. The hospital is now the main teaching facility of Drexel University College of Medicine.

Many critics charge the hedge fund with planning to replace the hospital’s seven medical buildings and its parking garage with more profitable commercial and residential structures. The six acres of prime Center City land is located along the Vine Street Expressway, adjacent to the busy Pennsylvania Convention Center, and near many popular cultural institutions.

A protest on June 27, the day after the closing announcement, drew 200 hospital workers and community activists who listened to nurse, labor and political leaders outside City Hall asking for the state to intervene. Labor unions present included Electrical Union Local 98, the Philadelphia Council of the AFL-CIO, the News Guild, Communications Workers (CWA), the Service Employees, UNITE HERE, PASNAP and District 1199C.

On June 28, several dozen nurses gathered outside the Rittenhouse Square apartment of banker Freedman, chairman and CEO of Hahnemann’s parent company, American Academic Health System, to demand that he keep the hospital open. 

Another 100 Hahnemann supporters came out to a PASNAP rally on July 2. PASNAP President May, RN, announced the state would appoint a temporary hospital manager. May stated, “We now have to fight for a long-term solution that keeps Hahnemann and St. Chris open, and stops Joel Freedman from treating them as real estate commodities.”

At the rally, City Council member Helen Gym said this is a fight against “corporate capitalization.” Nicolas O’Rourke of POWER (Philadelphians Organized to Witness, Empower and Rebuild) said that fight is against the “sins and evils of capitalism.”

A vigil was held on July 9, and an informational picket line is planned for July 11 in front of the hospital. 

Capitalist closure means health crisis

Hahnemann University Hospital’s closure would result in a public health crisis in Philadelphia. The Vine Street hospital is the only location in the city that offers special nursing assistance for sexual assault victims. Hahnemann’s year-old Transgender Fellowship Training Program provides training and education in major reconstructive cases, including pre- and post-operative care — the first of its kind in the city and the second in the nation.

After nurses at Hahnemann reported they lacked basic supplies necessary to provide quality patient care, hospital owners announced the end of emergency room trauma care, which was the city’s designated-Level I Trauma Center for adults. Studies have shown communities suffer an immediate 21 percent increase in trauma mortality when drive time to the nearest trauma center is increased immediately after a trauma center closes, with a 29 percent increase during the following two years. (tinyurl.com/y3whvdqv)

Every single Philadelphia hospital currently has emergency room wait times well above the national average. Without Hahnemann, which has more than 40,000 ER visits a year, the stress placed on other area hospitals serving  low-income patients would be disastrous. Almost two-thirds of Hahnemann’s volume are Medicaid and Medicare patients.

In addition to the hospital’s workers and patients, the closure will also have a ripple effect on the surrounding economy, costing the jobs of hundreds of other workers in hospital supply and service businesses. 

‘Blood, sweat and tears equity’

Of course capitalists believe they alone have the power to decide how property can be exploited for their profit — a belief Hahnemann’s workers and its surrounding communities are going up against.

An illogical capitalist system that rewards Wall Street profits before health care could put an end to 171 years of medical service to the ill and injured of this city. Thousands of workers would be put out of work. Community residents would lose a medical facility that provided them with critical health care.

In a humane society, Hahnemann’s workers and staff, alongside their neighbors who have depended on them for generations, would have more right to control the Hahnemann property than wealthy financiers who have never even stepped foot in the buildings.

The decades of blood, sweat and tears at Hahnemann should count for some equity in determining its future, even if it takes a worker/community occupation to prove that point.

Workers takeovers of workplaces have happened before, from the Republic Windows and Doors factory occupation in Chicago in 2008 to the famous Flint Sit-Down Strike against General Motors in 1936. 

A hospital is so much more obviously a community institution that deserves to be defended.

‘Health care is a right!’

The struggle to save Hahnemann should be seen as part of a broader campaign for universal health care, since closing Hahnemann only decreases access to medical care in the city.

From Canada to Cuba, nations around the world recognize that health care is a right. Getting rich off people’s injuries and illnesses, or by denying health care to people who cannot afford to pay, is considered inhumane everywhere but in the U.S. The right to profit off people’s misery is as wrong under capitalism as it was under slavery.

Hahnemann’s buildings do not exist in a virtual world. The hedge fund managers have no natural right to seize the brick-and-mortar structures for corporate gains to the disadvantage of thousands of lives. If eminent domain can be used by government bodies to put up skyscrapers and bridges, it should be possible to use eminent domain to prevent the destruction of critically necessary community assets.

“Health care before profits!” is a popular slogan. A new and imaginative labor/community fightback to the proposed shutdown can save Hahnemann. Workers and community must fight back for health care as a right!

Joe Piette

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Joe Piette

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