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June 29, 2023

Penn Medicine expected to use Brandywine Hospital for veterans care

The Coatesville facility has been closed since early 2022 and will be part of a reorganization of VA services in the Philadelphia region

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Penn Medicine Coatesville VA Thom Carroll/for PhillyVoice

Penn Medicine will use Brandywine Hospital in Coatesville as a site for veteran health care as part of a new agreement with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Officials said emergency care will be a priority.

Leaders at Penn Medicine have outlined a plan to repurpose Coatesville's Brandywine Hospital as a facility for Veterans Affairs services, including outpatient, acute mental health and long-term care.

Penn Medicine signed a letter of intent this week to acquire the Brandywine campus from Tower Health, which closed the 171-bed hospital in January 2022. 

On Tuesday, Penn Medicine also signed a pair of agreements with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to develop new facilities in the Philadelphia region. One will shift some of the veteran services currently at Coatesville's VA Medical Center over to Brandywine Hospital; the other will open the door to developing new VA facilities in West Philadelphia, where Penn Medicine has long operated a facility in University City. 

The VA agreements stem from last year's passage of the Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics Act, which expands health care benefits for veterans who were exposed to toxic substances such as Agent Orange during their service. The law allows for the VA to enter into lease agreements with academic institutions to provide care for veterans.

“The PACT Act allows for a great synergy between Penn Medicine and the VA, and we hope to leverage this new model to set the standard for how our nation approaches military medicine," said Kevin Mahoney, CEO of the University of Pennsylvania Health system. "Although we cannot fully repay the debt of veterans’ service to protect our freedom, we can ensure they receive the world’s best medical care at every phase of their lives following their service.”

Since 1948, Penn Medicine has provided care to veterans in Philadelphia at the VA Medical Center in University City, where more than 100 faculty members have dual VA appointments. That facility pushes VA-approved projects that aim to improve veteran health in specific areas like sleep medicine, cancer, mental health and regenerative and genomic medicine.

Penn Medicine is evaluating the needs of the veteran community to determine what kinds of programming will be housed within Brandywine Hospital.

Last year, the VA unveiled plans for a major restructuring of its nearly 1,300 hospitals and clinics across the United States, many of which were built after World War II. The reorganization plan included the closure of 35 hospitals in 21 states and a goal to build 14 new hospitals. The VA Medical Center in University City and the existing Coatesville VA Medical Center were among the facilities that would be closed.

A Congressional commission that would have overseen this plan was never formed because a bipartisan group of senators had misgivings about the VA's assessment of its needs. Some lawmakers thought the VA's plan was flawed and had not adequately incorporated data from the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a report, the VA said the Coatesville VA Medical Center does not meet design standards for modern health care and would cost $120.8 million to upgrade. The VA had instead recommended replacing the Coatesville location, built in 1930, with an outpatient center and then building a new inpatient hospital in King of Prussia. The report said the University City facility, built in 1950, also does not meet current design standards and would cost about $122.4 million to address deficiencies. 

At Brandywine Hospital, Penn Medicine officials said emergency care has emerged as a top priority for veterans. Penn Medicine also operates Chester County Hospital. The county's medical care has been stretched thin since Tower Health closed Brandywine Hospital and Jennersville Hospital in West Grove. Jennersville Hospital was acquired by Wilmington-based ChristianaCare, which plans to reopen it as a neighborhood hospital next year.

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