Temple will sell Fox Chase Cancer Center


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Philadelphia-based Temple University has signed a binding definitive agreement to sell the Fox Chase Cancer Center and its bone marrow transplant program to Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia.

The announcement comes after nearly a year of negotiations. Temple expects to complete the sale of the cancer center and bone marrow transplant program in the spring of 2020.

Temple also entered into an agreement to sell its membership interest in Health Partners Plan, a Philadelphia-based managed care program, to Jefferson. A closing date for the transaction has not yet been determined.

With the agreements in place, Temple and Jefferson are looking for other ways to collaborate. The two organizations are exploring a broad affiliation that would help them address social determinants of health, enhance education for students at both universities, collaborate on healthcare innovation, and implement a long-term oncology agreement that would expand access to resources for Temple residents, fellows and students.

“Healthcare is on the cusp of a revolution and it will require creative partnerships to have Philadelphia be a center of that transformation,” Stephen Klasko, MD, president of Thomas Jefferson University and CEO of Jefferson Health, said in a news release. “For Jefferson, our relationship with Temple will accelerate our mission of improving lives and reimagining health care and education to create unparalleled value.”




University of Chicago Medical Center closes level 1 trauma center ahead of strike


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University of Chicago Medical Center has closed its level 1 trauma center for adult and pediatric patients as it prepares for about 2,200 nurses to go on strike next week, medical center leaders announced.

Medical center leaders said UCMC closed its pediatric level 1 trauma program Nov. 18 and its adult trauma program Nov. 20. Its adult and pediatric emergency rooms continue to take walk-in patients.

Nurses are scheduled to strike Nov. 26, two days before Thanksgiving. The nurses also walked off the job Sept. 20 in a strike organized by National Nurses Organizing Committee/National Nurses United. They were allowed to return to work Sept. 25, after the medical center said it fulfilled its contract with temporary nurses to replace the striking ones for five days.

In preparation for the strike, UCMC announced earlier this week that it is moving about 50 babies and 20 children in its neonatal and pediatric intensive care units to other facilities.

UCMC President Sharon O’Keefe is also recruiting about 900 replacement nurses.

However, “it’s exceptionally difficult to hire people who are willing to leave their families during Thanksgiving,” she said in a news release. “At the same time, other hospitals in the city are already at or near capacity, which means they will not be able accept transfers of current inpatients if that need arises when nurses walk out. The combination of the two led us to take the step of temporarily closing our trauma program ahead of the strike.”

UCMC said the hospital was required to offer replacement nurses five days of work “to best recruit qualified and experienced replacement nurses.” Therefore, the nurses on strike will not be able to return to work until 7 a.m. Dec. 1.

Negotiations between UCMC and National Nurses Organizing Committee/National Nurses United began earlier this year. Medical center leaders say incentive pay — and whether the hospital should end the pay for newly hired nurses — is a sticking point in negotiations, according to the Chicago Tribune. The union has continued to express concerns about staffing levels.

The nurses said they plan to strike unless an agreement is reached.





Doctors try CRISPR gene editing for cancer, a 1st in the US


The first attempt in the United States to use a gene editing tool called CRISPR against cancer seems safe in the three patients who have had it so far, but it’s too soon to know if it will improve survival, doctors reported Wednesday.

The doctors were able to take immune system cells from the patients’ blood and alter them genetically to help them recognize and fight cancer, with minimal and manageable side effects.

The treatment deletes three genes that might have been hindering these cells’ ability to attack the disease, and adds a new, fourth feature to help them do the job.

“It’s the most complicated genetic, cellular engineering that’s been attempted so far,” said the study leader, Dr. Edward Stadtmauer of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. “This is proof that we can safely do gene editing of these cells.”

After two to three months, one patient’s cancer continued to worsen and another was stable. The third patient was treated too recently to know how she’ll fare. The plan is to treat 15 more patients and assess safety and how well it works.

“It’s very early, but I’m incredibly encouraged by this,” said one independent expert, Dr. Aaron Gerds, a Cleveland Clinic cancer specialist.

Other cell therapies for some blood cancers “have been a huge hit, taking diseases that are uncurable and curing them,” and the gene editing may give a way to improve on those, he said.

Gene editing is a way to permanently change DNA to attack the root causes of a disease. CRISPR is a tool to cut DNA at a specific spot. It’s long been used in the lab and is being tried for other diseases.

This study is not aimed at changing DNA within a person’s body. Instead it seeks to remove, alter and give back to the patient cells that are super-powered to fight their cancer — a form of immunotherapy.

Chinese scientists reportedly have tried this for cancer patients, but this is the first such study outside that country. It’s so novel that it took more than two years to get approval from U.S. government regulators to try it.

The early results were released by the American Society of Hematology; details will be given at its annual conference in December.

The study is sponsored by the University of Pennsylvania, the Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy in San Francisco, and a biotech company, Tmunity Therapeutics. Several study leaders and the university have a financial stake in the company and may benefit from patents and licenses on the technology.

Two of the patients have multiple myeloma, a blood cancer, and the third has a sarcoma, cancer that forms in connective or soft tissue. All had failed multiple standard treatments and were out of good options.

Their blood was filtered to remove immune system soldiers called T cells, which were modified in the lab and then returned to the patients through an IV. It’s intended as a one-time treatment. The cells should multiply into an army within the body and act as a living drug.

So far, the cells have survived and have been multiplying as intended, Stadtmauer said.

“This is a brand new therapy” so not it’s not clear how soon any anti-cancer effects will be seen. Following these patients longer, and testing more of them, will tell, he said.




Pennsylvania revokes Hahnemann’s license as security concerns remain


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Philadelphia-based Hahnemann University Hospital’s license has been revoked, the Pennsylvania Department of Health told the judge overseeing the hospital’s bankruptcy case in a Nov. 1 letter, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer.

The license revocation comes roughly two months after the hospital closed and about four months after the hospital entered Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

Pennsylvania Secretary of Health Rachel L. Levine brought the license revocation to the judge’s attention and expressed concerns about security in the letter.

“I am bringing the current situation at Hahnemann to your attention because I am deeply concerned about the state and security of the building and the supplies and equipment it is housing,” she wrote, according to the report.

Ms. Levine said a small team has made some progress but more work needs to be done. “While I do not want to take away from the effort that they have put forth, the fact is it is just not enough.”

Among the work that needs to be done, the removal of laboratory equipment and highly flammable chemicals, the letter stated.




RWJBarnabas to acquire Trinitas


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After months of negotiations, Elizabeth, N.J.-based Trinitas Regional Health Network has signed a letter of intent to join Robert Wood Johnson Barnabas Health System in West Orange, N.J.

Under the agreement, RWJBarnabas will become the parent company of Trinitas, a 554-bed Catholic acute care teaching facility. Trinitas will remain a Catholic institution, and its board will maintain oversight of the day-to-day operations of the facility.

According to the letter of intent, RWJBarnabas plans to invest money into the medical center and its affiliates for expansion.

The two parties expect to reach a definitive agreement before the end of the year. 

RWJBarnabas is an academic medical system comprising 11 acute care hospitals, three acute care children’s hospitals and a pediatric rehabilitation hospital, among other physician practices and outpatient clinics. 


Medicare overpays hospitals $1B each year for graduate medical education, study finds


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Medicare overpaid hospitals about $1.3 billion in 2015 for the government’s Teaching Health Center Graduate Medical Education program, according to a study published in JAMA Internal Medicine.

The Graduate Medical Education rate is $150,000 per resident. While 25 percent of hospitals received less than $106,000 per resident in 2015, 25 percent received more than $182,000 per resident. That same year, nearly half of teaching hospitals got more than $150,000 per resident.

If Medicare GME payments were capped at the $150,000 rate, researchers predict Medicare would save more than $1 billion every year.

“Our study suggests Medicare GME may be overpaying some hospitals up to $1.28 billion annually,” said Candice Chen, MD, lead study author and associate professor of health policy and management at the George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health in Washington, D.C. “Those funds could be redirected and used to strengthen the physician workforce, especially in underserved areas.”




Judge approves $55M sale of Hahnemann residency programs


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Bankruptcy judge approves sale of Hahnemann residency slots
This week a Federal judge ruled that the owner of Hahnemann University Hospital could move forward with the sale of the system’s more than 550 residency slots as part of a plan to pay off creditors. The training slots will be sold to a consortium of health systems led by Thomas Jefferson University Hospitals for $55M. Hahnemann had previously agreed to sell the positions to Reading, PA-based Tower Health before they were outbid by the Jefferson consortium, who will keep the majority of the positions—and new physician labor—in the Philadelphia area.

The judge noted the difficulty of the decision, saying it was the kind of case that would “cause a judge to lie awake at night”. The ruling is huge win for debtors, and a blow to the Federal government, which strongly opposed the sale and has seven days to appeal.

Should it stand, the case could set the precedent that residents and the positions they hold are an asset that can be negotiated for and sold. Interns and residents provide low-cost labor that is essential for 24/7 coverage in many large hospitals, and the complex system of allocating and funding of residency training slots is a funds transfer from the Federal government to health systems.

Allowing hospitals to sell those slots to the highest bidder could undermine the stability of urban hospitals, particularly those who are investor-owned, as owners look to maximize short-term profits.




U of Chicago nurses vote to authorize strike


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University of Chicago Medicine nurses have voted to authorize their union to strike, according to The Chicago Tribune.

The vote, conducted Aug. 29, allows the National Nurses Organizing Committee/National Nurses United to call a strike at any time without further approval from nurses. They must give the hospital 10 days’ notice before calling a strike. If the strike goes forward, about 2,300 nurses will walk off the job and the hospital will hire agency nurses to temporarily replace them.

The contract between the hospital and the union expired in April. The union hopes the vote authorizing a strike will help them make progress on contract negotiations, said Talisa Hardin, RN, a nurse at the hospital and a chief nurse representative for the union.

The nurses are asking for lower nurse-to-patient ratios and more security officers, among other things. They picketed in July to call attention to these concerns and filed complaints with state and federal agencies in June. An investigation from the state health department found some deficiencies at the hospital but concluded it was still in compliance with Medicare standards.

“The University of Chicago Medical Center does not want a strike, and UCMC continues to focus on bargaining in good faith toward a contract,” the hospital said in an emailed statement to Becker’s. “We have a full strike plan in place to ensure our patient care will continue should the union call for a walkout in the future.”


Ohio State Wexner Medical Center clears $4B revenue mark


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The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center in Columbus reported strong revenue in the fiscal year ended June 30, according to Columbus Business First.

The nonprofit medical center recorded revenue of more than $4 billion in fiscal year 2019, up 9.4 percent from the year prior, the newspaper reported, citing its analysis of financial results. The growth was partially attributable to a 4 percent year-over-year increase in inpatient admissions.

After factoring in expenses, Ohio State Wexner’s operating income reached $402 million in the fiscal year ended June 30. That’s the highest total since fiscal year 2015, when the medical center posted operating income of $358 million.

The financial results come as Ohio State Wexner plans inpatient and outpatient expansion projects, according to Columbus Business First. An 840-bed hospital tower and a parking garage are on the drawing board.


Many fear Hahnemann’s story will send a message: Buying a failing hospital pays

Many fear Hahnemann’s story will send a message: Buying a failing hospital pays

Hahnemann University Hospital. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Philadelphia Academic Health System, the company that owns Hahnemann University Hospital, is in bankruptcy proceedings, but the hospital’s real estate is not included in the filing. That has sparked outrage from the nurses union, City Council, and even presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders. They say it shows the owner had a plan all along: let the hospital fail, and sell it for its  valuable Center City location.

Indeed, California investment banker Joel Freedman, CEO of Philadelphia Academic Health System, separated out the land beneath the hospital and its adjacent, related buildings from the operating business itself, as is common in private equity purchases.

In fact, that’s how private equity is supposed to work: Big firms buy struggling companies with the promise of financial support, and to improve their operations and business strategy. When things go right, the business succeeds, and the private equity firm sells it in a public offering or to another bidder for more than it paid.

In other cases though, the process is not so successful. Private equity firms often load companies up with debt, take dividends out for themselves, sell off valuable real estate, and charge monitoring fees and interest on their loans, leaving a company in a much weaker position than it would have been otherwise, and often on the verge of bankruptcy.

“The house never loses,” said Eileen Applebaum, co-director at the Center for Economic and Policy Research. “The private equity firm makes money whether the company succeeds or it doesn’t.”

Freedman formed Philadelphia Academic Health System to run the hospital. His California private equity firm is called Paladin Healthcare, and he has previously bought and managed hospitals in California and Washington, D.C. At the end of June, Freedman announced that Hahnemann, the 496-bed hospital at the corner of Broad and Vine streets, would close. In early July, Philadelphia Academic Health filed a Chapter 11 bankruptcy petition.

Applebaum, who has taught economics at Temple University and is a native Philadelphian, said that if Paladin Healthcare had really wanted to save the hospital, there are a few things it should have tried.

The most obvious, she said, would have been to diversify its payer mix. One of the reasons Hahnemann failed financially is because two-thirds of its patients were on Medicaid or Medicare — publicly funded insurance plans that reimburse hospitals for care at lower rates than private insurance does. Applebaum said it’s common for hospitals in areas with high rates of patients on public insurance to buy up smaller hospitals in the suburbs, or in other areas that attract more patients on private insurance.

“You see Thomas Jefferson University outpatient-care centers everywhere, you see smaller suburban hospitals that are part of the Thomas Jefferson system,” she said. “Yes, you want to serve the less well-off communities, but you have to balance that with other communities. Everybody knows this, this is not a mystery.”

Because this strategy is common, the fact that Freedman didn’t try it makes Applebaum dubious that he really wanted to save Hahnemann.

“It does not really appear that they made a good-faith effort to turn this hospital around,” she said.

Freedman declined to comment for this story, but he has said in previous statements that he tried to sell the hospital to a nonprofit, and that he asked the city and state for money to keep it open.

The imbalanced payer mix is not as much of an issue at St. Christopher’s, the 188-bed children’s hospital in North Philadelphia that is also run by Philadelphia Academic Health System. It reported a $58 million pretax profit last year and is not closing.

That’s because almost all kids in the United States have insurance through Medicaid or CHIP, a federal program. Even though those reimbursement rates are also lower than private insurance would pay, children’s hospitals are more accustomed to that, and they adjust their operations accordingly.

“Pediatric hospitals, particularly those who serve a low-income population like St. Christopher’s, have learned how to operate on a Medicaid budget, so to speak, and have found ways to be more efficient and work within that coverage in a way that a lot of hospitals that primarily serve adult patients maybe haven’t had to,” said Lisa Bielamowicz, co-founder of Gist Healthcare, a D.C.-based health care consulting firm.

Last week, a judge in U.S.  Bankruptcy Court in Wilmington gave the green light for hospital systems to bid on St. Christopher’s. A consortium of four health care systems has already expressed interest.

“There’s also an element of wanting to preserve the competitive dynamic and capacity for that care in the market by preserving St. Christopher’s, so that Philadelphia doesn’t become a one-horse town for specialty children’s care,” said Bielamowicz.

Losing St. Chris would leave only Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia for inpatient pediatric care. In 2018, two-thirds of the revenue at St. Christopher’s was from Medicaid. It was half that amount at CHOP.

Bielamowicz added that it would be in the best interest of the local systems to take on St. Chris, so vulnerable children didn’t end up in those hospitals’ regular emergency rooms, many of which are at capacity, without the proper resources to care for them.

St. Christopher’s will be auctioned off to the highest bidder, and the bankruptcy judge is expected to approve the sale in September. The hospital’s Erie Avenue site also was not included in the bankruptcy filing.

Hahnemann Hospital’s property — owned by Broad Street Healthcare, the holding company set up by Freedman — totals about 1 million square feet and, according to city records, has a market value of $58 million.

Brad Molotsky, a partner with the law firm Duane Morris who formerly worked as general counsel for Brandywine Realty Trust, said the downtown neighborhood shows promise for developers, but only ones with deep pockets.

“If you rebuilt a million square feet at 500 bucks a square foot, that’s a big ticket,” he said.

Applebaum, of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, said she is worried that a separate sale of the Hahnemann property to a developer will lay a road map for private equity firms around the country: Buy older hospital in areas that are gentrifying, separate the hospital from its real estate, let the hospitals go downhill, and then sell the real estate to the developers.

“It won’t matter that they lose money in the bankruptcy on the hospital, because they’re going to make so much money on the real estate,” she said.

Another Democratic presidential candidate, U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, has released a plan that would force private equity firms and funds to share the responsibility for the debt the companies they buy take on in the financial restructuring process. As it stands now, neither Paladin Healthcare, the parent company, or MidCap Financial, which loaned purchase and operating funds to Philadelphia Academic Health System, are on the hook for any of its debt.

“It’s like you bought your neighbor’s house, you got a big mortgage when you bought your neighbor’s house, but it’s your neighbor who has to pay back the mortgage,” said Applebaum.

“So that’s a sweet deal if you can get it.”