City officials in Philadelphia have been considering reopening Hahnemann hospital, a centrally located facility that shut down last July, for the purpose of housing patients with severe cases of Covid-19. But Joel Freedman, the real estate vulture who owns the building that used to house Hahnemann hospital, has engaged in what can only be characterized as an extortion campaign aimed at extracting super-profits from the city in their desperation to expand the capacity of Philadelphia’s healthcare system.
As coronavirus spreads rapidly across the United States, with case numbers expected to surge in the coming weeks, the people are faced with a scenario where the healthcare system will reach capacity and find itself incapable of properly treating all patients and containing the virus.
Capitalist demands $5.4 million ransom
After days of negotiation with Hahnemann’s owner, the city has given up on the prospect of acquiring the hospital. The city and state government has so far declined to make use of its eminent domain powers and authority under the state of emergency declaration in this case, and the federal government has likewise refused to step in using the power granted to it under the Defense Production Act. Once again, it has been made clear that private property is fundamentally at odds with public health needs.
Freedman had proposed to the city a 6-month lease for $5.4 million, at $900,000 each month for the 496-bed hospital. This price was demanded despite the fact that Hahnemann is currently an unused building. Though the building has been sitting idle and generating no revenue for the past nine months, Freedman attempted to leverage his control of the property and use this moment of dire public need as an opportunity to extract huge profits from the rental agreement.
Ultimately, this move constitutes an attempt to exploit the plight of the people of Philadelphia, who will suffer considerably from the spread of the virus and require expanded, accessible treatment facilities. These are now being denied due to Freedman’s unwillingness to forego massive profits.
This has set the stage for a truly absurd reality to take shape in Philadelphia. As the most significant viral pandemic in recent history sweeps the region, and the city’s healthcare system approaches and exceeds its capacity to care for new patients, a massive, centrally located hospital will remain empty and unused.
Absurd as it may be, this situation reflects an essential feature of the capitalist system: corporate profits are more important than people’s lives. Ruling class politicians, functioning within a legal framework built to protect corporate interests, refuse to take action even in a time of a public health emergency. Only the people, united and organized, can force them to do what is needed.