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One Year Later, Hahnemann’s Cystic Fibrosis Program Thriving at Jefferson

The closure of Hahnemann University Hospital included a cystic fibrosis program with 110 patients who could not afford a lapse in care.

Philadelphia’s medical community received a shock to the system on June 26, 2019. That morning, fellowship program directors at Hahnemann University Hospital were informed that the hospital would be closing within a month. For Dr. Michael Stephen, former associate professor of medicine at Drexel University, and his 110 adult patients with cystic fibrosis, the closure of Hahnemann would put challenges in front of them that would take a true team effort to overcome.

Dr. Stephen Michael

Dr. Michael J. Stephen

Cystic fibrosis, a genetic illness that appears at birth, largely affects the body’s lungs. It causes recurring infections and scarring, and there is no known cure. For patients living with cystic fibrosis, every day is unpredictable, and medical attention can be required at a moment’s notice.

“It was incredibly challenging—and scary—having to operate a cystic fibrosis program with no hospital,” said Dr. Stephen. “By mid-July, a little less than a month after the closure was announced, we had run out of resources for the program and had to stop admitting patients.”

Transitioning the Program

“Jefferson Health—Center City,” Dr. Stephen continues, “was incredibly supportive in helping the program survive amongst the uncertainty that we were presented with.” Work quickly began to build an inpatient program to treat the displaced patients, and Jefferson Health started admitting new patients shortly thereafter.

“We had 110 patients in the program when Hahnemann closed,” said Dr. Stephen. “By my count, only one patient switched health systems during the transition. We were able to keep over 99 percent of our patients.”

Most of the patients in the cystic fibrosis program are between the ages of 20 to 30. With recent advancements in medical technologies and treatments, someone living with cystic fibrosis today can expect to live until their mid-40s.

It was incredibly scary at times. I didn’t know if I was going to be able to provide care for the patients that had depended on us for years. There could be no gap in care, so there was zero room for error.

–Dr. Michael Stephen

When patients are younger, they’re eligible for a lung transplant, for which the five-year survival rate is 50 percent. What often goes overlooked is that the lungs are in constant communication with the atmosphere.

“Philadelphia does not have good air quality, which only increases the challenges that our patients live with on a day-to-day basis in this area,” said Dr. Stephen.

Now the Director of the Adult Cystic Fibrosis Center at Jefferson Health, Dr. Stephen can reflect back on last year’s turmoil with relief. Half of his team is currently back in practice with him at Jefferson, with the rest planning to arrive soon.

“It was incredibly scary at times. I didn’t know if I was going to be able to provide care for the patients that had depended on us for years,” said Dr. Stephen. “There could be no gap in care, so there was zero room for error. Things can happen at any moment when you have cystic fibrosis.”

Future Plans

Moving forward, Dr. Stephen hopes to expand the program into the Greater Philadelphia area, with interest in Lehigh Valley and Southern New Jersey in particular. Dr. Stephen hopes that the medical community will rally once again to expand the offering of these services.

“Fortunately, everybody in the Philadelphia medical community stood up and provided emotional and financial support when and where it was needed,” said Dr. Stephen. “In the end, we couldn’t have asked for a better outcome.”

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