The move came a month after Crozer's proposed sale to ChristianaCare fell through.
State Rep. Mike Zabel, a Delaware County Democrat, has been a sharp critic of the cuts made at Crozer Health in the last year or so by the for-profit Prospect Medical Holdings Inc.
But he sees Crozer’s announcement Wednesday — that it will turn Delaware County Memorial Hospital (DCMH) into what experts say is a much-needed inpatient behavioral health facility — as a mixed bag.
“I am pleased to see an expansion of behavioral health services, particularly in Upper Darby,” he said. “That is certainly a positive, and I’m happy that the DCMH facility will continue to be used.”
But that move comes with the closure of the emergency department as soon as 60 days from now, subject to regulatory approval. That is a major negative for Upper Darby, a community of about 85,000, Zabel said.
“It is already a community that is economically disadvantaged in parts. Accessibility is going to be a major issue,” Zabel said. “DCMH is right at that heart of public transit, right at the heart of the township, and brought health-care services to lots of communities that I fear are going to struggle getting prompt and timely emergency care. That is the big concern.”
Wednesday’s announcement came a month after ChrisitanaCare’s proposed purchase of Crozer fell through. In conjunction with that announcement, Crozer said that its owner, the for-profit Prospect, would convert Crozer into a nonprofit.
Crozer’s chief executive, Tony Esposito, said the patients who used to depend on Delaware County Memorial’s emergency department will likely go to Trinity Health’s Mercy Fitzgerald Hospital, two miles away in Darby, or Main Line Health’s Bryn Mawr Hospital.
“They’ve been absorbing a lot of the volume when we closed surgical services and ICU,” Esposito said of Mercy Fitzgerald. Since those closures, which have left the hospital with about 10 patients a day in its 39 remaining inpatient beds, emergency medical services drive past Delaware County Memorial to Mercy or other hospitals, he said.
Mercy officials confirmed that they have picked up patients from Delaware County Memorial. “We will continue to care for these patients and our community after Delaware County Memorial Hospital closes and rely on our experienced staff to deal with any increased volume,” said Brad Bendesky, chair of the Mercy Fitzgerald Emergency Department.
But some of those ambulances go to Mercy are ending up back at Delaware County Memorial because Mercy gets backed up, said Angela Neopolitano, a registered nurse in the Delaware County Memorial emergency department and president of the DCMH Nurses Association, a labor union. Six years ago, Neopolitano’s union local represented 260 nurses. Now the number is 70 because so many of the hospital units closed, she said.
“They’ve destroyed my hospital piece by piece, and now they are just totally closing it,” said Neopolitano, who has worked there for more than 40 years, the last six in the emergency department.
Esposito said Crozer’s emergency medical services would continue serving that part of Delaware County. He expects Delaware County Memorial to employ more than the roughly 200 people who work there now when the transition to behavioral health is completed.
The plan to turn Delaware County Memorial into a behavioral facility involves the move of Crozer-Chester’s 34-bed adult inpatient psychiatric unit to Upper Darby and increasing its size to 40 beds, Esposito said. A 20-bed geriatric psychiatric unit will also move, but not increase in size.
Esposito said that in the spring, Crozer completed the construction of a 40-bed acute detox and rehabilitation unit within Delaware County Memorial. It didn’t open then because of a lack of staff.
In addition, Crozer plans to open a mental health crisis center at Delaware County Memorial, replacing one that used to be at Mercy Fitzgerald, but closed in early 2021, Esposito said. “We’ll still keep the crisis center in Chester,” he said.
Also remaining in Chester will be outpatient services, such as Crozer’s methadone clinic, Esposito said.
The goal is to complete the changes at Delaware County Memorial by March of next year.
One of the challenges in meeting that target will be staffing, which is difficult everywhere in health care.
“What makes them think they will be able to staff this at Delaware County? There is so much distrust in the Prospect system and in Crozer,” said Peggy Malone, a registered nurse in adult behavioral health unit at Crozer and president of the nurses union at Crozer.
Delaware County Memorial sits between Upper Darby High School and Monsignor Bonner and Archbishop Prendergast Catholic High School.
News of the shift to behavioral health services at Delaware County Memorial has caused community members to reach out to Upper Darby School District Superintendent Daniel McGarry for information.
“My community right now is asking me questions about that use and what is the impact on the community of that use being there,” McGarry said.