The desperate effort to reopen two hospitals in Pennsylvania

Tower Health closed two hospitals and another suitor dropped its bid to purchase the facilities in the Philadelphia suburbs. Local officials hope to find a new organization to reopen the hospitals.

Several weeks after the closure of two hospitals in the Philadelphia suburbs, Bruce Colley isn’t giving up hope that another organization will reopen the facilities.

Colley, the president of the Chester County Medical Society, is hoping to see another entity reopen the Brandywine and Jennersville hospitals.

Once a hospital is closed, it’s not easy to reopen, he acknowledged. He said he and other local leaders are still working, but they aren't "terribly optimistic."

“There have been rumors that there are other suitors,” Colley said in a phone interview. “I don’t know who they would be.”

Tower Health, the owner of Brandywine and Jennersville, shut the hospitals down this winter. Tower has been struggling to deal with massive financial challenges in the wake of an ambitious and ultimately ill-fated expansion.

Local officials rejoiced in November when Tower announced it had reached an agreement to sell the hospitals to Canyon Atlantic Partners.

A few weeks later, Tower said the deal collapsed because Canyon had “not demonstrated the necessary regulatory and operational preparedness, nor validated its financial ability, to complete this transaction and operate these hospitals.” Tower the announced it was closing the hospitals.

Canyon went to court and won a ruling to spur Tower to renew the sale agreement. However, Canyon ultimately abandoned its effort this week, the Reading Eagle and other media outlets reported.

Tower Health said it welcomed the news that Canyon has abandoned its efforts. "We are now able to move forward with exploring partner organizations with the financial and operational ability to complete a transaction," the system said in a statement.

Now, Colley and other local officials are hoping someone else will step up. The Philadelphia region has a host of formidable healthcare providers, but they haven’t shown interest in the hospitals yet, Colley said.

He said he is hopeful local and state officials can possibly secure funds to either entice a new buyer or help lure another provider to establish a new facility.

“We are willing to help anybody who has an idea,” Colley said.

Colley said the closure of the two hospitals is frustrating and a little ironic, since Chester County is one of the most affluent counties in Pennsylvania, if not the country. Chester is ranked as the state’s healthiest county according to the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute.

“For a county like this to lose a hospital, that's scary for what the rest of the country might be looking at,” Colley said.

Local officials seethed when Tower Health announced it was closing the two hospitals.

Pennsylvania Sen. Carolyn Comitta blasted Tower Health for shuttering the facilities, saying it felt “like a betrayal.”

Another lawmaker, Pennsylvania Rep. Dianne Herrin, said in December the closure of the hospitals was “devastating news for Chester County.” Brandywine Hospital was the county’s only hospital with a behavioral health facility to house patients with mental illness, she said.

Jennersville closed Dec. 31, while Brandywine Hospital closed Jan. 31.

Tower is trying to get on better financial footing after its expansion plans went awry.

In 2017, the Reading Health System announced it was purchasing five hospitals in the Philadelphia region and was adopting the name Tower Health for the new system. But the system racked up heavy debt in doing the deal and is now dealing with the fallout.

In September, Tower announced steps to try and improve its financial picture. Tower said it had a non-binding letter of intent to transfer Chestnut Hill Hospital in Philadelphia and some urgent care facilities to Trinity Health Mid-Atlantic.

Tower also said it planned to continue operating St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children but is “working with local and state agencies and organizations to help secure its long-term future.” Tower operates Reading Hospital, Phoenixville Hospital and Pottstown Hospital.

In the wake of the closure of Brandywine and Jennersville, Colley said some residents were able to keep their specialists, since they worked at other area hospitals. But some are finding new specialists. Residents in those communities also face longer drives to the emergency departments.

Local officials still cling to the hope that they can find another healthcare provider.

“Everyone is working hard to get people the care they need,” Colley said.