Across Philadelphia and the surrounding counties in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, shops and restaurants have closed their doors, schools and businesses have turned to virtual operations, and all non-essential workers have been ordered to stay at home in an effort to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus, COVID-19. As much of the region falls quiet, construction crews are on job around the clock at the Pavilion, the new hospital on the campus of the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania (HUP), to expedite the completion of 120 patient rooms by mid-April — 15 months ahead of the facility’s planned opening.
The 17-story, 1.5 million-square foot, $1.5 billion hospital is the largest capital building project in Penn’s history and will serve as an extension of HUP. Thanks to support from Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf and the Philadelphia Building and Construction Trades Council, the Pavilion and other healthcare construction projects were exempted from the state-wide shutdown of all “nonessential businesses” to slow to spread of the virus. Inside the bronze-clad building in West Philadelphia, workers are swiftly finishing floors and ceilings, painting walls, fitting pipes, wiring rooms, installing medical gases and technology systems and more, joining the providers and health care professionals who are on the frontlines of the epidemic.
“What these crews are doing — working day and night just like our doctors, nurses, and staff caring for patients — is herculean,” said Kevin B. Mahoney, chief executive officer of the University of Pennsylvania Health System. “Philadelphia is facing a crisis, and these men and women stepped up to do lifesaving work. There is no other team in the world that could execute the mission we’ve asked of them, and their efforts will make a tremendous difference in our ability to care for our neighbors and the patients this pandemic will bring to us.”
The exterior of the Pavilion was completed just months ago, at the end of 2019, allowing construction teams to turn their attention to the development of interior lounges and corridors. Now, in order to support the need for increased capacity to care for patients with COVID-19, every team member has been refocused to work on bringing 120 of the planned 500 patient rooms into operation in a few short weeks.
These rooms — 60 in the emergency department and 60 inpatient rooms designed for extended care — will serve as overflow spaces for low acuity patients and patients under observation, freeing up beds at HUP for patients with COVID-19. Stephen Greulich, Penn Medicine’s associate vice president for large capital projects, said the expedited project has called for creativity to adapt plans. Though the new spaces will be inside a still-unfinished building, they will be outfitted with state-of-the-art technology and equipment that allow for top-notch patient care.
“There are dozens of elements related to this project that we’ve needed to assess and say, ‘We can’t fully realize our final plans yet, but this is how we can deal with the current needs,’” he said. “The building is about 75 percent completed and about a year away from completion, but the project team has been dedicated to figuring out how we can get these rooms fully functioning as quickly as possible and ensure they can remain open as long as they need to. There’s been an unbelievably positive response to this challenging, changing situation; everyone has really jumped on board to get this done.”
At the heart of these efforts are the construction workers who have continued working full steam ahead. The effort spans three shifts that work 24 hours a day, seven days a week. To stay safe during the COVID-19 outbreak, crews have added to their normal worksite safety precautions by using their daily “Toolbox Talks” to reinforce the prevention guidelines set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, such as working further apart whenever possible. Penn Medicine is doing everything it can to protect the 350 workers are on site each day. Each worker is screened by clinical staff and have their temperatures taken before they can begin their shift.
Greulich has been astounded by how much each person has taken this shared mission to heart. “It’s a real cause,” he said. “When the coverage of the virus started, there was a noticeable concern across the workforce and staff, but now that we have this immediate, extremely important goal, everyone is pushing their hardest to meet it. It has been amazing to watch.”
Since its earliest planning stages, the Pavilion has been described as a future-proofed facility that will offer the highest quality health care for generations to come. Though the COVID-19 pandemic has cast a shadow of uncertainty and anxiety across the world, the flexibility, teamwork, and unwavering dedication of the project and construction teams has made one thing clear: The Pavilion will deliver on this promise even earlier than expected.
If you are a Penn Medicine patient experiencing COVID-19 symptoms, please call your doctor. If you have questions about the coronavirus and COVID-19 disease, please call our hotline at 267-785-8585. Learn more about COVID-19 and Penn Medicine’s response at PennMedicine.org/coronavirus