PHILADELPHIA – When Tenet Healthcare System closed the historic Medical College of Pennsylvania Hospital Dec. 18, the for-profit corporation did not ask the city or state for help or inform them of its plans because earlier notice would have affected Tenet stock market shares, Tenet Vice President in charge of Pennsylvania operations Phillip S. Schaengold testified at a Philadelphia City Council hearing.

Since the closing, there has been a groundswell of organizing by employees, patients, community groups, elected officials and labor leaders to keep the 153-year-old hospital open. The Save MCP Coalition has fought back with rallies, candle light vigils, community meetings and a court suit.

The hearings have brought out important information to the public. In 1998, Tenet bought MCP and seven other Philadelphia hospitals from bankrupt Allegheny Health after the city gave the for-profit corporation tax breaks and incentives such as a lower rate on heating gas. Tenet promised to keep its doors open to indigent patients and continue the Level one Trauma Center.

Later Tenet closed two hospitals that were not profitable and sold another one, then bought a hospital that it deemed profitable. For several years Tenet refused to hire an adequate number of nurses at MCP, forcing nurses to work overtime double shifts for regular wages. In November, the nurses went out on strike for five weeks. Just when a settlement was reached between Tenet and OPEIU Local 112, Tenet announced that it was closing MCP Hospital.

“Tenet has destroyed our trust,” said Councilman Michael Nutter, who chaired the hearings. Nutter had served as chairman of MCP’s Community Board. Two longtime employees accused Tenet of “killing the hospital.” Ann Davis and Lee Russow said major departments that brought revenue to MCP were moved to other Tenet hospitals: the cath lab and its cardiologists, dentistry, ob-gyn, plastic surgery and orthopedic surgery.

Nutter and other Council members grilled Schaengold about Tenet’s history in Philadelphia. “Tenet is willing to turn over MCP to any viable operator, including the state or city, for $1 a year,” said Schaengold. “Tenet lost $35 million operating MCP last year. It can’t be saved.”

There has been standing room only at the hearings. Many patients pleaded to keep the hospital open. It is the only Level One Trauma Center in northwest Philadelphia. Its emergency department served 25,000 patients last year. MCP serves a mixed income, multiracial community of 70,000 people.

The problems of MCP go beyond Tenet. Dr. Walter Tsou, the former health commissioner for Philadelphia and a spokesperson for the Philadelphia Area Committee to Defend Healthcare, testified that the city is facing a health care crisis with 136,000 uninsured residents. Low reimbursement rates, high malpractice costs and no financial support for indigent care will cause other hospitals to close, he said. Tsou asked the City Council to find the funds to keep MCP open and save the 1,000 health care jobs. Tsou also called for City Council members to work for a national health insurance system for the entire nation.

The author can be reached at phillyrose1@earthlink.net.

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