When Pope Francis visits Philadelphia September 26 through 27, Einstein physicians will be at the epicenter of activity throughout the pope’s stay, prepared to deal with many of the emergencies that might arise.
Scott Goldstein, DO, director of Tactical Medicine at Einstein Medical Center Philadelphia (EMCP), with multiple affiliations in emergency medicine, and disaster medical assistance, will be supervising Einstein’s Physician Support Unit (PSU) at City Hall, where a 50-bed medical station will be set up.
If all goes well, he says, “I hope we have nothing to do. That means everything is fine.”
The Physician Support Unit is actually a bright, shiny, specially equipped Land Rover. Think of it, Dr. Goldstein says, as “an emergency department on wheels.”
“The Land Rover was modified to be a non-transport ambulance,” he says. “It’s staffed only with physicians so we can keep different medications and treatments that are not in a regular ambulance staffed by street medics.” The unit carries amputation equipment, medications to counter hazardous materials and weapons of mass destruction, advanced airway care and monitoring equipment, advanced pain control, and other drugs and equipment that can only be used by physicians.
|Scott Goldstein, DO|
The nonprofit service is designed to support the operations of conventional emergency response units, and it is unique to the Philadelphia region. The Physician Support Unit is available to respond to major incidents 24/7.
In addition to Dr. Goldstein, Ryan Overberger DO, Molly Furin MD, Melissa D. Kohn MD, and Anne Klimke MD, also work on the Physician Support Unit.
The unit is housed at Burholme Emergency Medical Service on Bleigh Street in Philadelphia’s Northeast, and typically called out for emergencies a couple of times a year. That might not seem like a lot, but the unit is not dispatched to your average ambulance call. Hazardous materials releases, mass casualty incidents, extrications lasting longer than 40 minutes, building collapses … all meet the criteria for a Physician Support Unit response.
On a day-to-day basis, Dr. Goldstein says, the big Land Rover is often used by Burholme for community paramedicine—home-based, non-transport care provided by paramedics.
The unit is also called upon to provide emergency standby services at major events, such as the Maccabi Games, the second largest organized sports program for Jewish teenagers in the world, held in Philadelphia and Montgomery County in 2011—and, of course, the upcoming papal visit.
The Physician Support Unit isn’t the only way in which Einstein will be represented during the three days Pope Francis is in Philadelphia. Far from it—Einstein’s highly regarded emergency department, a busy Level 1 trauma center, is also gearing up for a potential surge in illnesses and injuries related to the visit.
While Steven J. Parrillo, DO, is not taking the potential for increased traffic to the emergency department lightly, he says the emergency department is prepared—as it always is. “We’re gearing up to see a 20 percent or so surge in traffic” as a consequence of the papal visit, says Dr. Parrillo, former medical director of the Emergency Department at Einstein Medical Center Elkins Park and co-chairman of Einstein Medical Center Emergency Management Committee. “We already have a big staff, and we’re going to have that many more available just in case we need them—extra physicians, nurses, residents and techs.”
Another potential source of emergency traffic, Dr. Parrillo says, is the possibility that seriously injured or ill patients may arrive via helicopter. The air space being restricted during the visit does not extend to EMCP.
Because of Einstein’s strong and deep capabilities, Dr. Parrillo says, the emergency department is always available to handle potential large surges in patient traffic due to disaster—for example, the May 12 catastrophic derailment of Amtrak’s Northeast Regional train. Although Einstein’s emergency department ultimately received only 11 patients, it was prepared for far more. That train wreck disaster, he says, “was potentially the biggest one.”
Like Dr. Goldstein, Dr. Parrillo is hoping that Einstein’s emergency department won’t have to respond to an onslaught of patients due to some unforeseen incident during the pope’s visit. Like his counterparts in the emergency community throughout Philadelphia, though, he is aware that it can be a dangerous world. He believes Einstein is ready for almost anything, but there’s always the unexpected. “We hope for the best,” he says, “and prepare for the worst.”