Two days before bids were to be opened in 1975 for Philadelphia's Hahnemann Hospital construction project, officials in the Department of Health, Education and Welfare warned that the plans might be "in violation of several federal statutes" and recommended that the bid opening be delayed.
Instead, according to government documents and statements from a number of the officials involved, Rep. Daniel J. Flood (D-Pa.) sharply demanded that HEW mind its own business and keep its experts out of the project.
"The message was that Flood wanted us to keep our cotton-picking hands cut of it," said Gerrit D. Fremouw, recently retired director of facilities engineering and management at HEW. "We stayed out of it until they ran into trouble and asked us to come back."
The project to build a new 21-story hospital for Hahnemann was sparked in mid-1975 by an unprecedented $14.5 million appropriation in the budget of the Community Services Administration, which is supposed to be in charge of the government's anti-poverty efforts.
The rider carrying the appropriation was tacked onto the bill at the behest of Flood, the influential chairman of the House appropriations subcommittee that supervises the budgets of both GSA and HEW.
GSA officials say they sought and welcomed the technical advice and assistance of HEW's engineers and construction experts because, as several of them stated in separate interviews, "we don't know how to build a hospital."
While still apprehensive about the feasibility of the project and its benefits for "low-income individuals," CSA officials cleared the grant with a number of special conditions attached on Oct. 1, 1975. A memo summerizing the conditions began by stating that "serious question exists as to the feasibility of this project."
The Carter administration's controversial ouster of U.S. Attorney David W. Marston of Philadelphia has focused new attention on the Hahnemann Hospital undertaking, which Marston's public corruption unit began investigating last July. The inquiry has since given rise to allegations that Flood and Rep. Joshua Eilberg (D-Pa.) may rave profited from the project.
HEW officials summarized some of their concerns in a Dec. 16, 1975, mailgram from Fremouw in Washington to Lawrence Corson, a law partner of Eilberg and general counsel for Hahnemann. It expressed fears that the project might not be in tune with the "Philadelphia Plan" for minority employmnet and that it might fall short of federal requirements for facilities for the handicapped.
"They needed ramps [for peopl in wheelchairs," Jack Ramsey, then] chief of CSA's special division, recalled in a brief interview. "That's not much to ask of a hospital, is it?"
The mailgram from Fremouw, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, read: "Nonconformance of the building design with regard to accessibility and life safety requirements could preclude the Medical Center from participation in Medicare-Medicaid reimbursement programs."
In addition to recommending postponement of the bid opening -- then scheduled for Dec. 18, 1975 -- until HEW regional experts in Philadelphia could review the project, Fremouw recommended that CSA and HEW enter a formal agreement whereby the mammouth department's hospital building expertise could be made available on a contractual basis with set provisions for monitoring by HEW.
Instead, Flood, irately by several accounts, intervened on Dec. 17, the day after the mailgram arrived at the Eilberg law firm. HEW Comptroller Charles Miller II acknowledged yesterday that he took a phone call from the powerful Pennsylvania Democrat.
"Flood was teed off at one point because approval of the plans was being delayed," Miller recallrd yesterday "(He) told us he didn't want us in on it. . . He reported to me that our staff was holding up the award and that it was not HEW's business."
CSA Controller R. Thomas Rollis said he vaguely remembered getting a call from Flood's administrative assistant at the time, Stephen Elko, but Rollis said he had no recollection of any anger being expressed.
"I don't recall the details," Rollis said of his conversation with Elko, who has been testifying before a grand jury about Flood's activities. "I have no knowledge of any of the substantive problems at the hospital." All he can remember, he said, is that Elko expressed "concern over the Dec. 16 letter, delay to the project, and danger to the project" if the bid opening were delayed.
At some point, Miller and Rollis spoke over the phone about the problem. According to a letter in CSA files, Fremouw got the word from the HEW comptroller and subsequently assured CSA in writing: "Inasmuch as the decision was made to proceed without technical assistance from DHEW, this office will take no further action on the Hahnemann project."
The bid opening went ahead as scheduled on Dec. 18, 1976. The general contract went to Victor Frenkil's Baltimore Contractors Inc., which weighed in with a low base bid of $29.5 million, although there have been several change orders since.
CSA took the position that no delay in the bids was necessary on the grounds that the special conditions it had imposed, especially restrictions on the release of the $14.5 million federal grant, offered adequate protection.
An unsigned draft letter to Chairman Flood in the CSA files, although never sent, reflects that agency's anxiety to get HEW help restored immediately after Flood's intervention.
"As a result of your conversation with HEW," the unsent letter to Flood stated, 'that department has now refused to get involved with the project at this time without consent from you. We are hereby requesting that you give your consent based on the facts mentioned above."
HEW and CSA, however, did not enter the formal agreement, which Fremouw had recommended, until April 1, 1977. By then, CSA records show, other problems had cropped up such as an evidently insurmountable one spotlighted in mid-1976 by experts from the National Bureau of Standards.
They warned that the Hahnemann building, as designed, would "lose tremendous amounts of heat in the winter and gain great amounts of heat in the summer" because of "large amounts of glass. . . poorly insulated masonry and metal panels together with poorly designed thermal bridges." It said careful building maintenance measures should be studied since it was probably "too late to drastically modify the building envelope or mechanical systems."
According to Fremouw, HEW finally resumed its advisory services at Flood's request. "They [Hahnemann] got into trouble and asked us to help out," he recalled. "I think it was a legal thing with the Philadelphia Plan and some design problems."