Sanders speaks in Philly at a July 2019 rally against the closure of Hahnemann Hospital

Less than a week after ending his presidential bid, U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders is pivoting back to a Philadelphia campaign issue: the ongoing fight over Hahnemann Hospital.

A new text message push from Bernie 2020 seeks signatures for a petition that calls on hospital owner Joel Freedman to turn the vacant facility over to the city to aid in the battle against COVID-19.

“L.A. millionaire and private equity investor Joel Freedman bankrupted Hahnemann Hospital last summer, closing down an historic safety net hospital,” one text message reads. “Now, as our city faces the coronavirus pandemic, we are in desperate need of hospital beds and treatment centers.”

Following the text is a link to the petition launched by Councilmember Helen Gym over the weekend. The online appeal calls on Freedman to “put Hahnemann Hospital to public use in a public emergency and stop profiting off our crisis.” The petition has garnered nearly 15,000 signatures since Saturday, Gym said.

Sanders’ supporters have also been circulating the campaign’s link to the petition on social media.

Mayor Jim Kenney’s administration has maintained it doesn’t have the time or resources to continue negotiating on price for the cocooned space, especially since Temple University stepped up to offer its Liacouras Center as a surge medical facility for free.

But it appears the fight over Hahnemann is far from over — at least for the councilmember.

Gym said she had recently spoken with Kenney staffers about the status of the deal, and that she believed the administration was “keeping its options open.” Kenney spokesperson Mike Dunn, however, said the city’s position hasn’t changed.

“There are no ongoing negotiations at this point in time,” Dunn said. “The Mayor and Managing Director are solely focused on mitigating the spread of the virus, and in expanding Philadelphia’s response capacity to a potential surge in cases.”

Sanders and Gym, both Democrats, became natural allies when drama over Hahnemann’s bankruptcy engulfed the city last summer. On a campaign trip to Philly, Sanders joined Gym in the crescendoing backlash against the hospital’s closure.

The new pressure campaign comes weeks after negotiations stalled out between Kenney and Freedman following the hospital’s offer: buy the building or pay rent and costs the city says would total close to $1 million per month. Many, including Kenney, accused Freedman of trying to “jack up prices” in a time of crisis. The businessman’s Center City home has since been repeatedly vandalized.

Sanders’ campaign could not be immediately reached for comment.

Gym said she hopes the petition will put pressure on Freedman to reconsider a deal.

“My goal is to make clear to Joel Freedman that this is a city in need and there are thousands of people who are watching, and he has a chance to do something bold and decent by rationing this facility in a time of crisis,” Gym said. “The building is vacant and unused — and a symbol of all that has gone wrong in this country.”

Gym, who endorsed Sanders for the Democratic presidential nomination in February, said the campaign contacted her to offer its support.

“This is not about…a showdown with this individual,” she said. “It’s more about highlighting the fact that Hahnemann Hospital remains a visceral symbol of what we lost when it closed down.”

Said Gym: “We don’t need a pandemic to demonstrate that healthcare opportunities in Philadelphia and across the country remain a major issue.”

Max Marin (he/him) was Billy Penn's investigative reporter from 2018 to 2021. A graduate of Temple University, he has produced award-winning journalism on local politics, criminal justice, immigration...