Hospitals across Philadelphia may have up to 66,000 patient interactions in the days before and during the two days Pope Francis will be in town.
That includes everything from handing out a Band-Aid, delivering a baby or providing intravenous fluids for weary and dehydrated papal pilgrims.
Hospitals have brought in extra ventilators and beefed up stores of essential medications.
The emergency room at Pennsylvania Hospital might care for about 100 people on a typical Friday or Saturday — but this weekend that volume could be double, said John Wierzbowski, the hospital’s manager of safety and emergency preparedness.
In addition to the surge of patients, hospitals are getting ready to host the personnel who will tend to them.
During a large winter snowstorm, there might be 40 or 50 staffers who need accommodations, Wierzbowski said.
“This is a large snowstorm times 10,” he said.
His crew will start inflating 500 air mattresses early this week.
The campus on Eighth and Spruce streets is inside Philadelphia’s traffic exclusion zone, so some employees will have to hoof it to work, take public transit or stay over for several days. Besides the beds, Wierzbowski has stockpiled extra linens, bike racks, toothpaste and toothbrushes in order to host about 580 nurses, doctors and other medical staffers.
He also bought window shades for the makeshift rooms where staffers will sleep.
“One of the staff concerns — especially night shift — is ‘How can I get good sleep during the day on an air mattress?’ We’ve actually purchased sleep masks for all those staff sleeping here to have some peace and quiet,” Wierzbowski said.
He’s planning to run a tight ship. Everyone bunking at the hospital will have an assigned time to shower.
“Their eyes kind of pop out, and they say: ‘Wow we only have 20 minutes, does that include blow drying your hair and all that kind of stuff?’ Yes, it does,” he said.
The hospital is planning for down time, too.
“Bingo night, movie night, and we’re going to feed staff, and we’re going to feed ’em pretty well,” Wierzbowski said.
Even for a preparedness veteran, they’re have been some surprise details that needed attending. The team had to rented a 53-foot trailer to hold soiled laundry until pick-up service resumes after the papal visit.
The hospital is still tallying the expense, but the extra preparations could cost from $50,000 to $100,000.
Besides the expected bumps, bruises, sprains, heat exhaustion, births or heart attacks, the team is ready for more serious possibilities.
The federal government is positioning some of its emergency resources at the hospital.
“It’s a big cart full of nerve-agent antidote. So, if there were a terrorist incident with the release of nerve agent, we’d have sufficient amount of those for patients exposed,” Wierzbowski said.