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System News Special Issue: Katrina
System News Editor:
Sally Sapega
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Philadelphia PA 19104
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Issue Available: September 23, 2005

We're pleased to present just a few of the inspiring stories and tireless efforts of the University of Pennsylvania Health System's physicians, nurses, and staff in bringing relief to those affected by Hurricane Katrina.

Our special issue of System News will be available on September 23, 2005...take a peek here.

Included In This Issue...

  • CEO's Corner
  • No Gift Too Small
  • HUP Specialists Head South
  • Hands-On Nursing Care in Baton Rouge
  • Beyond Food & Shelter: Help for the Mind
  • Hitting Close to Home
  • 'Adopting' Six Families

View this issue (PDF)



Treating Katrina Evacuees

On September 6th, in response to a call for aid from City officials over the Labor Day weekend, the Health System rushed a team of more than 70 medical specialists to Philadelphia International Airport to help provide medical-triage services to a group of 600 evacuees who were expected to land later that day.

Although that initial medical group was recalled because the plane never arrived, Penn sent a second team of medical volunteers and equipment to the airport the next day to help evaluate, triage, and treat patient-evacuees who arrived later that evening. “We set-up our patient-intake area so that each triage team – consisting of one doctor and two nurses – could evaluate and triage the patients to either a local hospital or the Wanamaker School shelter,” said paramedic Jim Pisaturo, EMT/P. Three of the four evacuees who required hospitalization were rushed to the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania’s Emergency Department for follow-up evaluation and treatment.

These people had lost everything, noted P. J. Brennan, MD, Chief Medical Officer for the University of Pennsylvania Health System, and Victoria Rich, PhD, Chief Nursing Executive. “We considered it a privilege to meet their health-care needs during this time of severe hardship," said Brennan.

“There’s never a lack of dedicated and qualified health-care professionals at Penn who are eager and willing to offer their time and talents in time of crisis,” he added. “We’re fortunate to have doctors, nurses, and staff who are ready to pick-up and offer their assistance wherever it’s needed, and we’re equally fortunate to have others who agree to stay behind and provide coverage for their colleagues.”


Wheelchair Round-Up

Usually, the Patient Transport team moves patients from one location to another in the hospital. But, once the call came from Al Black, the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania’s Chief Operating Officer, to round-up and deliver 20 wheelchairs to Materials Management to support the pending airport triage effort, the hospital’s 50 transporters mobilized with military precision to locate all available units. “We got them quickly to the Loading Dock, and then lifted them onto several large trucks for delivery to the airport,” recalls Joseph Cooney, Associate Director of Patient Transport Services.

Working through the Department of Clinical Resource Management & Social Work, Cooney’s team also arranged for standby vans – from paratransit provider Keystone Quality Transport – to escort Health System personnel to and from the airport. “Everyone in the house was pulling together, and we were pleased to do our part,” said Cooney.


The Art...and Heart...of Scientific Collaboration

When researcher Valerie Weaver, PhD, Assistant Professor of Pathology & Laboratory Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, heard from her New Orleans-based colleague that he had lost everything to Katrina’s fury – his house, his car, his lab – she told him, “Don’t worry. We’ll find space for you in my lab.”

Her extemporaneous response, she said, was “just the natural thing to do” – but, after hanging up the phone, she thought, “Uh, oh – I better figure out how to actually do this!” Weaver then contacted Mark Tykocinski, MD, Chair of Pathology & Laboratory Medicine, and Glen Gaulton, PhD, Vice Dean for Research & Research Training in the School of Medicine – both of whom enthusiastically endorsed a plan permitting Suresh Alahari, PhD, to join Penn as a visiting scientist.

Weaver and her lab team – including students, post-docs, and technicians – set about finding housing for both Alahari and his technician, Yuemin Ding. They then purchased or donated their own household supplies (such as coffee-makers and linens) to their new research guests … and made room in their lab for Alahari’s studies.

“He’s an adhesion guy,” says Weaver of cell-biologist/biochemist Alarhari, whose work on cell-signaling has focused on tumor invasion and growth. “We’re quite eager to see how our separate research interests and paths may intersect to advance our understanding of tumor growth in cancer,” said Weaver, who is internationally renowned for her enterprising investigations into the molecular basis of force-dependent tissue differentiation and malignant transformation.

On September 12, Alahari took up residence in the Weaver lab. “We’re already quite excited about some of the ideas we’ve been exploring,” said Weaver.


Neonatal Nursing

“One of greatest concerns was for our fellow nurses who were still working in the areas hit by Katrina,” said Ann Phalen, PhD, Clinical Nurse Specialist in the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania’s Intensive Care Nursery. “We kept seeing TV images of them having to hand-ventilate patients – can you imagine having to hand-ventilate patients for up to 24 to 36 hours straight?” [Hand-ventilating requires the continuous manual operation of an airbag in order to maintain the flow of life-saving oxygen into a patient’s lungs.]

According to Phalen, when the ICN first got the call from UPHS Administration to send volunteer nurses to help triage evacuees expected to arrive later that day at Philadelphia International Airport, the response was so overwhelming that they had to quickly organize a lottery system to select the nurse (Kristy Kennedy) who would be permitted to go. Many others on the unit – Kate Pocius, Sandy Rodgers, Sunny Bernardo and Molly DeCock – volunteered portions of their weekends and days-off to assist in any way needed.

On Tuesday night, September 15, the Health System’s ICN nurses joined approximately 45 of their colleagues from throughout the Delaware Valley to celebrate National Neonatal Nurses Day. For this year’s event, the group met at a local Italian restaurant, and each neonatal nurse was asked to provide either a financial contribution or donation of infant-related items, such as diapers, blankets or baby formula. “We viewed this as another opportunity to contribute what we could, and turned our donations over to the local chapter of the American Red Cross,” said Phalen.


System News is a periodical newsletter for the University of Pennsylvania Health System. It includes information about the various components of UPHS.

For more information about System News, or to request issues prior to 2005, please contact the editor.


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