PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders joined in a big rally Monday to protest the closure of Hahnemann University Hospital. The Vermont senator was with hundreds of supporters outside of the hospital on Monday afternoon.
“It’s not a question of economics, it’s a question of basic human morality,” Sanders said.
Last month, the hospital announced plans to shut down in September, citing financial issues.
Sanders says health care should be a guaranteed right for all Americans and he used the hospital’s closure to drive home that point.
“The issue that brings us here today is not complicated. At a time when our country faces a major health care crisis, when 80 million Americans are either uninsured or underinsured, including tens of thousands of people here in the Philadelphia area, we should be moving, we must be moving forward to guarantee health care to all the people as a right,” the presidential candidate said.
Sanders took aim at Joel Freedman, the hospital CEO and owner.
“We’re sending a very loud and clear message to Mr. Joel Freedman, the investment banker from Los Angeles, and that message is as simple as one can imagine and that is do not shut down this hospital,” Sander said to a roaring crowd. “Work with local officials, work with the unions and the people of this city and keep this hospital open.”
Sanders added his voice to a growing chorus of those condemning Hahnemann University Hospital’s closure.
“It’s insane,” Sanders said in an exclusive interview with CBS3 prior to the rally. “If you look at this thing objectively and you say that in the midst of a health care crisis, a hospital is being converted into a real estate opportunity in order to make some wealthy guy even more money, ignoring the health care needs of thousands of people, that is pretty crazy.”
Hahnemann already shut down its maternity ward over the weekend and plans to close the entire facility by early September. However, Gov. Tom Wolf and Philadelphia city leaders announced Monday it secured $15 million in tax dollars for any new medical provider that plans to open at Hahnemann. The money would be used to fill in any gaps.
“Let’s make it clear — today the eyes of the nation are on Hahnemann Hospital right now,” Philadelphia City Councilwoman Helen Gym said.
Hahnemann’s nurses union believes that tax money is a good start but insists it is not enough. The union also wants lawmakers to push the hospital’s owners to sell the facility to a medical nonprofit.
“We do not want this to shut down,” nurses union president Maureen May said.
Freedman says in a statement that he has always been open to scenarios to save the hospital.
“I have, however, always been open to any scenario which might have saved Hahnemann, including conveying the Hahnemann real estate to a not-for-profit entity that would have committed to continuing the Hahnemann operations. We made such an offer a not-for-profit entity three months ago, whereby such not-for-profit could have acquired the Hospital, real estate, and certain HPP interests held by Hahnemann for nominal consideration, plus the assumption of ordinary course liabilities. The State and City were aware of the offer. Unfortunately, the discussions with the not-for-profit entity were unsuccessful. With our liquidity rapidly depleting and little time to spare, we could not find any other takers, forcing us to do the only responsible thing: use remaining resources to assure patient safety through an orderly closure,” Freedman said.
Sanders says the hospital is among 100 other medical facilities that have closed since 2010. He told supporters at the rally he wants to create a $20 billion emergency fund to help states and communities take over hospitals that are in financial distress.
More than 2,000 jobs are predicted to be lost when the hospital shuts down in early September.
CBS3’s Matt Petrillo contributed to this report.