‘Ghost Town': Workers Describe Conditions as Hahnemann Lurches Toward Closure

"More and more floors are just vacant," one worker said.

What to Know

  • Sen. Bernie Sanders held a rally to demand that Hahnemann University Hospital's owners not shutter the medical facility.
  • Despite the enthusiasm at the rally, inside the hospital, the mood remained more somber.
  • Employees described it as a “ghost town” that is systematically being dismantled.

Hundreds cheered outside Hahnemann University Hospital Monday afternoon as Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders demanded that the hospital's owners put an end to the medical center's impending closure.

Behind the hospital's stone entrance, however, the mood was somber.

As Philadelphia Academic Health System lurches toward closing Hahnemann, workers at the hospital described a "ghost town" that is getting systematically dismantled with each passing day.

"They decide to close it down, merge the patients and then they strip it of the computers and equipment and it's empty," said Shanna Hobson, who has been an emergency room nurse at the hospital for the last six years.

The closures have started at the top floors and are moving downward, said Joelle Leone, a fellow Hahnemann nurse. "More and more floors are just vacant," she said.

The reduction in patients has come as the hospital continues to close units. On Friday, it shuttered its maternity ward. Before that, it began diverting trauma patients. On Wednesday, the Pennsylvania Department of Health confirmed, it will stop admitting patients from the emergency room to the hospital.

Hobson, the emergency room nurse, said she only learned of the changes to admitting patients through media reports, such has been the lack of communication from the hospital's leadership.

Randol Hooper, a resident at Hahnemann, said that while the hospital technically remains open, the lack of patients is having a detrimental effect on resident education.

Residents, of which Hahnemann employs more than 500, are medical school graduates working usually under an attending physician as part of on-the-job training.

Given the current low patient count and the barren hospital halls, the residents are having to find other ways to train themselves during their shifts, Hooper said. They're doing things like reading and studying instead of actually treating people.

"Someone found a cockroach and we were joking because, 'We found a patient!'" Hooper said. But though he has used humor to ease his anxiety, he remains worried about the potential impact on his future. "It's a ghost town. There's almost no patients. There are floors that are shut down. The ER is effectively working like a walk-in clinic. We're not getting trained anymore, basically," he said.

The anxiety has trickled down to the patients themselves. Michele Smith, a clinic manager in the dialysis unit, which rents office space in the hospital, said her 47 patents fear the repercussions if the dialysis unit closes and they can't receive their thrice-a-week treatments.

"Dialysis is life-sustaining, it's not an option; they have to do it," she said.

Leaders from other area hospitals, including Einstein Medical Center, Thomas Jefferson University Hospital and Penn Medicine, have said they're prepared to take on the additional Hahnemann patients.

Those assurances, however, belie the reality of the impact on workers at these other hospitals, said Kristina, a per-diem nurse at Hahnemann's emergency department who also works Lankenau Medical Center.

"We're already feeling the effects of the closure of all of the services [at Hahnemann] at my other facility — big time," said Kristina, who declined to give her last name.

Hobson said that "big time" impact is resulting in hospitals not being able to admit Hahnemann's emergency patients, despite what their leaders say.

"We call the hospital and they say, 'We're divert, we're full, we can't take this patient. And when that's every hospital, they sit in our department waiting for hours to go someplace when they might need an emergent procedure like a heartcath, which they need right now," Hobson said.

Hobson warned of the consequences of these longer wait times, even when people get admitted to another hospital:

"I'm sure the nurses at these hospitals are doing absolutely the best they can with everything they can do, but when seconds count and you're taking longer, people are gonna get hurt."

NBC10's Jake Zebley and Deanna Durante contributed to this story.

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