What kind of event would necessitate a hospital system to stock up on 80,000 pounds of sheets, towels and blankets, $1.25 million in extra medications and 1,800 units of blood? That would be a visit from Pope Francis.
Three hospitals in the University of Pennsylvania Health System have spent months planning for the Saturday papal visit, whose affinity for embracing the sick has led to an even greater level of preparedness.
Pennsylvania providers anticipate older populations, with both chronic and rare diseases, some hoping to be healed.
“Hospitals here are good at planning for weather-related events like snowstorms and hurricanes, but this is unprecedented,” John Wierzbowski, director of safety and emergency preparedness at the system's Pennsylvania Hospital, told Modern Healthcare.
The Pennsylvania Hospital is in the heart of what some locals call the “Pope Zone,” an area of heightened security, in which 25 miles of roads and highways have been closed and special-access areas have been set up for people who need medical services.
Since April, teams have worked to prepare that facility and others such as the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania and the Penn Presbyterian Medical Center.
About 2,000 employees at those facilities will stay overnight and use 32 portable showers. Not only will the system have additional staffing at its area hospitals for walk-ins, but outreach teams of mental and behavioral health and emergency teams will be deployed to seek out homeless people and visitors in distress.
“Imagine if you had to build a hospital, with bricks and mortar and people, on an island with no chance of getting off,” said Mary Del Guidice, chief nursing officer at Pennsylvania Hospital and a member of the system's pope planning team. “That's the kind of detail we have worked to consider.”
Papal visit planners have estimated that as many as 1.5 million people may attend the outdoor Mass in Philadelphia, expected to be the biggest event of Francis' first trip to the U.S. And they might come from all over the world.
The Philadelphia Department of Public Health issued a special advisory this week listing some infectious diseases of concern. They include typhoid and yellow fever; the chikungunya virus that produces fevers and joint pain; malaria; polio; and tuberculosis.
The city's Health Department has also posted an online advisory with lists of disease symptoms, diagnostics and treatments and instructions on patient isolation and the use of personal protective equipment.
It also includes a public health screening tool to aid clinicians in evaluating patients for potential infectious disease.
The department is instructing providers to take a detailed travel history from patients and to report diseases to a special hotline.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.