Two Chester County hospitals now set to close as deal to sell them falls apart12/13/2021 11:45PM ● By Steven Hoffman
Six months ago, there were rumors circulating among local first responders that something was up with Jennersville Hospital and a possible approaching sale of the facility in Penn Township.
On Sep. 27, those rumors became a reality when Jennersville Hospital’s owner, Tower Health, announced its plans to close the facility on Dec. 31.
Shocked and saddened about the prospect of southern Chester County losing its only emergency room, local officials came together with hopes of finding and engaging a buyer. They hoped their efforts would yield as smooth a transition with as little disruption as possible.
County Commissioners Josh Maxwell, Marian Moskowitz, and Michelle Kichline, State Rep. John Lawrence, State Sen. Carolyn Comitta, and the Penn Township supervisors, among others, worked on viable options to keep the hospital open.
On Nov. 22, a glimmer of hope emerged when it was announced that Canyon Atlantic Partners from Texas agreed to buy Jennersville Hospital as well as Brandywine Hospital in Caln. Canyon Atlantic Partners is a for-profit business that buys and restores distressed hospitals.
With that announcement, Canyon began seeking information about its future clienteles and stated its hope to run the transition as smoothly as possible, according to Medic 94 CEO Bob Hotchkiss, who was in conversations with them. Medic 94 is southern Chester County’s advanced emergency paramedical unit housed at Jennersville Hospital.
The hopes for the sale of the hospital and a smooth transition were dashed on Dec. 8 when it was announced that the deal had fallen through.
Attached to that disappointment was the news that Tower Health planned to close Brandywine Hospital on Jan. 31, 2022 as well Jennersville Hospital at the end of this year.
Lawrence, who was and is heavily involved in seeking a solution to the approaching crisis, said he believes the reason for the failure was that Tower Health had not vetted Canyon Atlantic properly and later found that it did not have the funding or credentials to engage in the purchase of hospitals in Pennsylvania.
The potential closing of two hospitals in the county would leaves a large gap, especially for nearby emergency room treatment where many patients would need to travel significantly farther to hospitals in West Chester, Paoli, Reading, or Elkton, Maryland or Newark, Delaware. For the some patients, the extra travel time could literally mean the difference between life and death.
After the sale fell through, local legislators expressed their anger through public statements and vowed to fight on. Their reactions were swift and emotional.
Lawrence called the announcement shocking and a “complete betrayal of what trust was left between Tower Health and the community.”
“Tower’s abrupt decision to close Jennersville Hospital 10 weeks ago was made with complete disregard to the tens of thousands of local residents who rely upon the hospital, as well as their own employees who served faithfully in one of the most challenging times in recent history,” he said.
He said he and his colleagues had been assured that Tower had agreed to keep the hospital open, and he and the community took them at their word.
“It was a hollow promise, and Tower had failed to vet the proposed buyers, leaving the community and the hospital employees with nothing more than uncertainty and a severance check,” he continued.
He said he could not recall the last time he was this angry but would continue to work with local responders and elected officials to find a solution that meets the needs of the community.
Likewise, Comitta said in a public statement that she was “disappointed, frustrated and angry” by the news of the planned hospital closing. She added that it was more bad news that Tower announced the planned closing of Brandywine Hospital as well on Jan. 31, 2022.
“When it was announced that Jennersville would close, our legislative delegation, local municipalities, and county commissioners worked and acted sincerely and in good faith to do everything in our power to save it. When it was announced, days before Thanksgiving, that Tower had found a new buyer for both Jennersville and Brandywine, we took them at their word. When we raised questions about Canyon Atlantic, a largely unknown entity, we were met first with reassurances and later with silence,” she said.
She said learning of the failure of the sale “feels like a betrayal.”
Like Lawrence, she said vows they will continue to work at the local, county and state levels to address the heightened urgency of the situation. She also asked Tower to continue to keep the hospitals open until a solution can be found.
In a later interview over the weekend, Lawrence commented further on the lack of vetting of Canyon Atlantic Partners by Tower Health.
He said he is not certain what the standards are for hospital operations in Texas, but that in Pennsylvania they are very high. “Whoever buys it must meet standards of the Attorney General and Orphans Court. … Maybe the standards are lower in Texas,” he said.
He speculated that the COVID-19 pandemic could have had a role in challenging Tower Health’s lowered profits, prompting the sale.
He said because there was anticipation of a glut of COVID patients arriving at Jennersville Hospital, many people put off elective surgeries, which are money-makers for the hospital.
He reiterated that even with the holidays coming up, he would continue to work on a solution for keeping the hospital open.
“We are not going to take our foot off the gas,” Lawrence said.
He added that, if anything, the need for hospital service will increase in Chester County – the wealthiest county in Pennsylvania and one of the wealthiest in the nation. “I think it’s an opportunity,” he said.
His hopes are still high, despite the setback.
“Other companies will look at this area, for example senior care. There are other outfits and some other interesting ideas. We are committed to that,” he concluded.