Temple may face extreme state funding cuts due to the unforeseen backlash received after the announcement about the closing of Northeastern Hospital.
Temple University Health System announced March 23 the hospital “will transition from an inpatient hospital to a multispecialty ambulatory care center by July 1, 2009.”
The university and its health system have been under intense scrutiny from both the community and elected officials since then.
“The decision was made in the face of declining utilization and mounting losses on health care operations at Northeastern Hospital,” said Rebecca Harmon, a spokesperson for TUHS.
The hospital is reported to have lost $6.6 million in the 2008 fiscal year and is projected to lose another $15 million in the 2009 fiscal year.
Temple officials are being criticized for not turning to elected officials for financial help to keep the hospital open. Community members are also outraged Temple did not include them in the decision process.
The common consensus is the change will leave thousands without a nearby emergency center, as well as cause hundreds to lose their jobs.
The change will primarily impact members of the Bridesburg, Fishtown, Kensington and Port Richmond communities. The hospital had approximately 60,000 emergency room patients and 1,800 baby deliveries last year.
State Reps. John Taylor and Michael O’Brien and state Sens. Michael Stack and Larry Farnes are the elected officials whose constituents will be most affected by the closing.
Stack held a meeting at his office with President Ann Weaver Hart and Edmond Notebaert, the president and CEO of TUHS, along with other local leaders after the announcement was made.
“Basically, they slapped us in the face and punched us in the stomach, and now they’re saying, ‘Can’t we all work together?’” Stack said after the meeting. “We all understand we have a health care crisis, but we’re not convinced closing Northeastern doesn’t add to it.”
The two parties did not reach an agreement on the fate of the hospital, Stack said.
“The elected officials and the coalition to save Northeastern Hospital are reviewing and considering all available options to keep Northeastern Hospital open,” he said.
Taylor, however, has already threatened to cut more than $150 million in funding, which Temple receives from the state. This would affect both TUHS and the university.
“No action has been taken, but [Taylor] has enough votes that the funding would definitely be cut from Temple,” said Paul Kaiser, an aid of Taylor’s.
Several community organizations are also jointly filing for temporary restraining orders with the hope of blocking the closure, Taylor said.
Northeastern is scheduled to begin reducing inpatient services in May and to end all emergency services by July 1. The hospital has been open for nearly 100 years.
Harmon said the new Northeastern Ambulatory Care Center will focus on prenatal care and family health, offer non-emergency walk-in care and provide outpatient specialty services.
Those in need are encouraged to seek inpatient services at Temple University Hospital.
“Northeastern Hospital has served this community for generations, and it is our intention to continue to meet the needs of our patients for years to come,” said Northeastern Hospital CEO John Buckley. “Those patients who require more complex care will continue to have access to their doctors at Temple University Hospital, as well as the hundreds of other specialty physicians at Temple University Hospital.”
Harmon said Human Resources will provide job search counseling to all affected Northeastern employees, but the closing of the hospital will create extensive job loss. It is estimated that approximately 800 employees will be given the axe.
“The creation of Northeastern Ambulatory Care Center permits us to continue to meet the current and future health care needs of the community with a financially sustainable model,” Notebaert said.
“Moving forward, we will continue to explore and consider additional options that would further enhance our ability to deliver health care services and education to the communities served by the new Ambulatory Care Center.”
Kathryn A. López can be reached at email@example.com.