CHESTER COUNTY, Pa - Three Chester County hospitals are at risk of closing, according to leaders of county and state medical societies.
They are worried that Tower Health may shut down the hospitals if they can't find a partner.
Leaders of the Chester County and Pennsylvania medical societies are sounding the alarm about the future of Brandywine Hospital, Phoenixville Hospital and Jennersville Hospital all owned by financially troubled Tower Health based in West Reading.
The history behind the brick building on Coatesville’s East Chestnut Street leaves a lingering fear over people in the area like Carmen Boyd.
"We need that for our population here," she said. "We’re looking at the possibility of having medical disparities again."
Boyd works as a valley township supervisor at the now men’s shelter named after W.C. Atkinson, the African American physician who built a hospital in Coatesville in 1932. It gave the Black community its first access to healthcare and served the community for decades until a Chester County community hospital took over.
"I think the historical relevance of this place losing medical care is what scares everyone because it happened before," said Josh Maxwell, Chester County Commissioner.
Tower Health is searching for a partner to sell the hospital system, which totals seven hospitals.
According to a National Credit Agency, Tower Health’s financial difficulties began in 2017 when the hospital system first acquired five hospitals in the Philadelphia area, including Brandywine, Phoenixville and Jennersville in Chester County.
"In knowing what’s going on sometimes within health systems and the challenges that they have especially in the course of a pandemic, we’re real concerned they may not survive as is," said David McKeighan, Executive Director of the Chester County Medical Society.
According to Fitch Ratings, over the pandemic, Tower Health had combined operating losses of more than 415 million in the fiscal year that ended June 30.
In December of 2020, Brandywine Hospital closed its cardiac catheterization services.
"I was just in Philadelphia yesterday with a family member for two procedures and we shouldn’t have to travel to Philadelphia for procedures," Boyd said.
Last month, Tower Health’s interim CEO announced a restructuring of the medical group, impacting nearly 200 staff members. Pennsylvania Medical Society president Dr. Michael Dellavecchia says just one doctor leaving has a ripple effect.
"You’ve taught and taken care of grandmom who had her babies there and they’re now bringing the grandchildren there and you know the whole family so that’s a rapport that doesn’t exist on an electronic medical record," he said. "That’s all good quality of care and that may very rapidly be lost and never be reestablished, and to have that drift through your fingers when you’re responsible for that care is very, very horrifying for any practicing physician."
The local medical community is considering gathering a committee to buy the hospitals as a non-profit foundation. Retired malpractice attorney Bart Post says it would be more than just a hospital.
"You have all types of allied medical facilities that work along with the hospital in a symbiotic way picture that hospital is not only just a hospital but it’s a daycare facility," he said.
"I think it’s a perfect time for creative ideas to solve problems here and the more smart people offering those ideas the better," Maxwell said.
In a statement sent to FOX 29, Tower Health says they would welcome Mr. Posts’ participation in the process, in adherence with the same guidelines followed by all other participants. They say they are making good progress in financial turnaround efforts and their board of directors is reviewing multiple indications of interest.
Their statement continued: The work taking place now will allow the board to fully understand every possible option to help tower health fulfill our mission and ensure our long-term sustainability.
"Without the community hospital it is very difficult to bring those specialists out to the community and what you will have is a problem with access," said Dr. Robert Satriale of Brandywine Hospital.
As a specialist in pulmonary medicine, Satriale says the past year has been nothing short of challenging on multiple levels, but he now has hope.
"I’m sure that they are going to choose a partner who’s going to make them even stronger and we will continue to be able to provide the care. Yes, we will have to repair some of the service lines, but some of us including myself have really rededicated ourselves," he said.
Coatesville city council member-at-large, Khadijah Al-Amin, says they’re willing to do whatever it takes except for closing hospitals.
"There’s a lot of us getting older — I’m included in that club, too — so what are people to do?" she said.
Tower Health's full statement can be found below:
"Tower Health is making good progress in its financial turnaround efforts. While we continue to implement operational and financial improvements, The Tower Health Board of Directors is reviewing multiple Indications of Interest from potential partners. Each one was varied in its approach, from interest in Tower Health as a whole to individual assets. Several were deemed worthy of additional analysis, and this work will be completed by mid-July. Additional discussion and analysis are required so that both Tower Health and any interested partner can fully understand the scope and benefits of a potential transaction.
Tower Health would welcome Mr. Post’s participation in the process in adherence with the same guidelines followed by all other participants.
The Tower Health Board has not made any decisions about partnership. The work taking place now will allow the Board to fully understand every possible option to help Tower Health fulfill our mission and ensure our long-term sustainability. Everyone at Tower Health is working hard to chart a path forward that continues our strong commitment to high quality patient care and service to the community."
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