Doctors and administrators at Hennepin County Medical Center have planned and role-played any number of scenarios that could occur when the Super Bowl comes to neighboring U.S. Bank Stadium next month.
But two real-life medical situations are unfolding that could have an impact on their ability to respond to the many thousands of football fans, visitors and partygoers who will descend on downtown Minneapolis for the 10 days of festivities.
The current cold snap and a growing influenza outbreak have created a surge of patients at HCMC and many other hospitals in the metro, filling general hospital beds and even many in intensive care.
While the demand could abate, especially if subzero temperatures disappear, the number of flu cases is expected to continue to grow and might even peak as game day approaches.
“We will continue to see an overload on hospitals because of influenza,” said Dr. John Hick, HCMC’s medical director for emergency preparedness.
Even with the Super Bowl, the hospital will not cut back on basic patient services. It is not discouraging elective surgeries or deferring outpatient services.
Events might overwhelm capacities at HCMC, but a real-time information system run by the Minnesota Health Department will allow emergency managers to divert ambulances to one of the other 31 hospitals in the metro.
The system, called MNTrac, is already used on a daily basis to keep tabs on the number of emergency department and inpatient beds available at hospitals, including the number of beds set aside for critical cases, so ambulances will know where to go if some hospitals are too full to accept more patients.
“If something happens in the downtown area, we are going to get an immediate flood of patients,” said Mark Lappe, HCMC emergency manager. A team of about 10 people will constantly be checking various aspects of hospital readiness, including bed availability, staffing, security and supply inventories.
It has all been part of an 18-month effort to plan and prepare for one of the country’s biggest sporting events. The incident team has conducted exercises to anticipate a number of possible scenarios, including mass casualties, a bus rollover, outbreak of a food-borne illness or a mass power outage.
Apart from those extreme events, a large snowfall or traffic gridlock are much more common possibilities.
Anticipating that, critical hospital staff will stay downtown and HCMC’s ambulance fleet will temporarily move to a site in northeast Minneapolis, apart from the rigs that will be stationed downtown.
Making shifts to ambulance routes is not unusual and routinely occurs whenever freeways are closed, such as last year’s closure of the Lowry Hill Tunnel on Interstate 94. A computerized dispatch system helps plot the best route.
“We deal with that on a constant basis. There will be hiccups, no doubt, and we will overcome them as we have in the past,” said HCMC paramedic Mike Trullinger. “We are in the business of dealing with the unexpected.”
Now that the Vikings are headed to the playoffs, HCMC officials are planning for the possibility that many more fans will crowd into downtown if the team makes it to the big game.
“As much as I love to see the Vikings in the Super Bowl, that is going to make it tricky for us,” Hick said. “That weekend is going to be one long gridlocked party in Minneapolis.”