PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – The Pennsylvania Department of Health is throwing employees of Hahnemann University Hospital a life line as nurses and labor union leaders rallied outside City Hall to keep the facility open. The state ordered Hahnemann to "cease and desist" its closure plans on Thursday.
In a "cease and desist" letter, Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine said state officials determined an immediate closure of the hospital or termination of services without a state-approved plan "may cause irreparable harm to the health and safety of the patients in the city."
Additionally, the letter said any type of closure during the July 4 holiday week "could have widespread effects on the city."
"Hahnemann University Hospital is vital to the community's health care and its owners cannot stop treating patients with no plans in place for their continued care," Levine said. "There is a legal process in place to ensure that this difficult transition happens in a way that protects public health. Hahnemann must follow that process, including keeping its emergency department open."
On Wednesday, the Philadelphia Academic Health System, which bought Hahnemann about 18 months ago, announced that because of continually losing money, they are shutting down the 496-bed hospital that serves more than 40,000 patients per year in their emergency room.
State health officials say the Philadelphia Academic Health System must send a closure plan and keep adequate staff that complies with the 90-day notice that is required by Pennsylvania law.
"Failure to comply with the requirements described in this order may result in the Department taking any and all actions required by law, including fines and injunctive relief," the letter said.
Gov. Tom Wolf said Thursday the Department of Health's decision was taken to ensure people who rely on Hahnemann are "not suddenly left without care and its employees aren't left without jobs."
"We have processes and procedures in place to assure these things don't occur and this letter, in no uncertain terms, advises Hahnemann that it must follow those rules in the best interest of patients and employees," Wolf said.
The Philadelphia Academic Health System said Thursday in a statement that it'll prioritize patients as they close in an orderly manner.
Several councilmembers say they'll hold ownership accountable.
"We stand with you, we believe in this. We're ready to do whatever we can do," Philadelphia City Councilmember Jannie Blackwell said.
On Thursday afternoon, Hahnemann University Hospital staff and labor leaders gathered at City Hall, saying they won't quietly accept losing their jobs and denying patients critical care despite the parent company's plans to shut down the facility by the end of the summer.
"We will not go down without a fight," Pennsylvania Association of Staff Nurses and Allied Professionals president Maureen May said. "We need to keep Hahnemann a hospital, not a real estate investment for a predatory for-profit company."
"We're hoping that the state, the city, somebody, the governor will intervene and help keep Hahnemann open or at least allow for a more orderly closure so that it doesn't result in, you know, potential catastrophic results for the citizens and visitors of this city who need emergency services and life saving services like the cath lab, people having strokes, heart attacks, and need emergency surgery," said Shanna Hobson, an emergency room nurse at the hospital.
Many see the closure as a devastating development for the millions of people who live, work and visit Center City.
"Hahnemann is a critical access point for our patients and if we close they'll be stranded," Dylan Toolajian, an oncology nurse at the hospital, said. "This is nothing short of a public health emergency."
The union says the closure would create a public health emergency because no area hospitals' emergency department can properly treat the 40,000 patients Hahnemann sees annually.
The hospital that employs 2,500 workers will close on or around Sept. 6 due to continuing and unsustainable financial losses, the hospital announced on Wednesday.
"Our goal in acquiring the hospitals was to help them both flourish and provide world-class care," said Joel Freedman, founder and president of PAHS. "We relentlessly pursued numerous strategic options to keep Hahnemann in operation, and have been uncompromising in our commitment to our staff, patients, and community. We are saddened our efforts have not been successful, and we are faced with the heartbreaking reality that Hahnemann cannot continue to lose millions of dollars each month and remain in business."
Freedman said St. Christopher's Hospital for Children, which his company also owns, will remain open.
CBS3's Cleve Bryan contributed to this report.
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