Philly public health gets a shot in the arm with 3 bills advanced by City Council committee

By KYW Newsradio 1060
PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — Philadelphia City Council's public health committee has advanced a measure that would put new reporting requirements on hospitals that are planning to close. The bill hopes to prevent incidents like last summer's abrupt Hahnemann University Hospital closing. It was one of three bills that cleared the committee Wednesday. 

Witnesses recounted the turmoil that followed the announcement by Hahnemann's hedge fund owner that the hospital was closing. Former employee Regina Settles said there were clear signs the move had been planned for some time, as floors closed and supplies were not restocked. 

"There were even no washclothes for us to wash patients. We ended up cutting, we ended up cutting towels so the nursing department would be able to wash our patients," Settles said.

Councilmember Helen Gym's bill would require hospitals to file a closure plan — for the smooth transfer of patients and their records — 120 days before closing. 

The city and state already require closure plans, a rule Hahnemann's owners flouted by threatening to close St. Christopher's Hospital for Children too if it didn't get approval to close Hahnemann. 

But Health Commissioner Tom Farley welcomed another tool.

"All hospital owners, if they can no longer sustain the operation of a facility, have the obligation to close the hospital in a way that is responsible and responsive to community needs," he said,

Farley also supported a bill to let the Health Department collect data on opioid prescriptions. He said one percent of doctors write 30 percent of all prescriptions, and the bill would help officials target their education effort, part of the strategy to reduce opioid addiction. 

He also supported a bill restricting the sale of flavored and high nicotine e-cigarettes to adult-only retailers, telling the bill's sponsor, Councilmember Bill Greenlee, flavors like pink lemonade and peachy mango reveal who they're really aimed at. 

"It's a candy flavor, it's a children's," Farley said. 

Farley said the flavors are a big reason that teen e-cigarette use is at epidemic levels, which worrisome because they're unregulated, their full contents are unknown but their key ingredient — nicotine — is highly addictive.

But restricting access could reduce the problem. 

Surprisingly, Councilmember Blondell Reynolds Brown, sponsor of many health bills such as calorie and salt disclosure on menus, tried to weaken the measure with an amendment but it was defeated.