Urban hospital closures disrupt health system balance
When an urban hospital like Hahnemann University Hospital closes, there is a major disruption to patient care. Patients need to relocate to other nearby centers, and they may not always be able to follow their physician to the next health center.
If patients have comorbidities, are being tracked across multiple care points, or change physicians during a hospital closure, details can be missed and care can become more complicated for physicians who end up seeing the patient at a new center. For example, a patient receiving obstetrics care at a hospital that closes will have to reschedule their delivery at another health center, noted Dr. Pinsky.
“Where patients get lost is when there’s not a physician or an individual can keep track of all that, coordinate, and help to be sure that the patient follows through,” he said.
Patients at a closing hospital need to go somewhere else for care, and patient volume naturally increases at other nearby centers, potentially causing problems for systems without the resources to handle the spike in traffic.
“I’m a service director of quality improvement and patient safety for Drexel internal medicine. I know that those sort of jumps and volumes are what increases medical errors and potentially could create some adverse outcomes,” said Dr. D’Mello. “That’s something I’m particularly worried about.”
Physicians are also reconciling their own personal situations during a hospital closure, attempting to figure out their next step while at the same time helping patients figure out theirs. In the case of international medical graduates on J-1 or H1-B visas, who are dependent on hospital positions and training programs to remain in the United States, the situation can be even more dire.
During Hahnemann’s closure, Dr. Pinsky said that the ECFMG, which represents 11,000 individuals with J-1 visas across the country, reached out to the 55 individuals on J-1 visas at the hospital and offered them assistance, including working with the Department of State to ensure they aren’t in jeopardy of deportation before they secure another training program position.
The ECFMG, AMA, AAMC, and ACGME also offered funding to help J-1 visa holders who needed to relocate outside Philadelphia. “Many of them spent a lot of their money or all their money just coming over here,” said Dr. Pinsky. “This was a way to help defray some immediate costs that they might have.”
Education and research, of which hospitalists and residents play a large role, are likewise affected during a hospital closure, Dr. Pinsky said. “Education and research in the hospital is an important contributor to the community, health care and medical education nationally overall. When it’s not considered, there can be a significant asset that is lost in the process, which is hard to ever regain.
“The hospitalists have an integral role in medical education. In most hospitals where there is graduate medical education, particularly in internal medicine or pediatrics, and where there is a hospitalist program, it’s the hospitalists that do the majority of the in-hospital or inpatient training and education,” he added.