See the 253 hospitals in the eclipse path of totality—and what they're doing to prepare

Topics: Care Delivery, Providers, Hospitals, Public Health

By Josh Zeitlin, Editor

On Monday, all of the contiguous United States will experience a solar eclipse—but the event will look very different depending on where you are in the country.

Throughout most of America, the moon will partially cover the sun, making the sun look "like a cookie with a bite taken out of it," the Washington Post reports.

That will be interesting, for sure. But parts of 14 states, from Oregon to South Carolina, will experience something different entirely. In the so-called "path of totality," the moon will completely block out the sun. The temperature will drop. The sky will darken; it will look like nothing you've ever seen before.

"Seeing a partial eclipse," Annie Dillard writes in her famous essay, "bears the same relation to seeing a total eclipse as kissing a man does to marrying him." The total eclipse, Mike Kentrianakis of the American Astronomical Society told the Post, is "the most gorgeous natural wonder you will ever see."

That's why millions of people are expected to travel to see the celestial spectacle—and the more than 250 hospitals in the path of totality and those close by it have been preparing for months, making sure they'll be fully staffed, stocked up on supplies, and ready for a potential onslaught of visitors.

Hospitals in the 2017 eclipse path of totality             

Sources: CMS data on Medicare-certified hospitals and VA hospitals; Google Maps; NASA total eclipse map

"We're excited about it," said Jeff Absalon, chief physician executive and executive vice president at Oregon-based St. Charles Health System. "We want to make sure we're doing the right thing and obviously planning a lot." The system over the course of a week is expecting a 500 percent and 200 percent increase in patients at two of its hospitals in the path of totality and a 100 percent increase in patients at another hospital just outside the path of totality.

To prepare, St. Charles from Aug. 16 to Aug. 23 is bringing in nearly 60 travel nurses, canceling elective surgeries, and limiting time off, The Oregonian reports. The health system is also extending its clinics' hours and stocking extra supplies, from gauze, blood, and prescription drugs to antidote for rattlesnake bites.

Salem Hospital, also in Oregon, will have about 70 cots for staff who want to sleep onsite and three air-conditioned tents outside its emergency department that will serve as sobering stations and triage centers. Salem is limiting elective procedures and setting up a command center to coordinate with 11 other area hospitals.

Portneuf Medical Center in Idaho is handing out about 100 old pagers to staff in anticipation of spotty cell phone service, as well as about 1,500 eclipse glasses so residents can view the eclipse safely.

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St. Luke's Health System in Idaho even made a music video to educate patients, revamping Bonnie Tyler's "Total Eclipse of the Heart" as "Total Eclipse, I'll Be Smart."

As the weekend and big day approaches, hospitals are about to put all their preparation to the test. The planning has been "an invaluable exercise," said Joseph Hutchinson of Samaritan Health Services in Oregon. "You can't get better training for emergency preparedness."

Officials are expecting the unexpected—and they hope patients act responsibly. Mosaic Life Care Medical Center in Missouri is bringing in an additional 40 doctors for the weekend and Monday. The hospital's president, Brady DuBois, doesn't think many patients will end up with traumatic eye injuries from staring at the sun, but he is worried about an increase in drug use.

"We'd prefer no one would do drugs, certainly not during a once-in-a-lifetime event," DuBois told the Kansas City Business Journal. "There could be some traumatic eye injuries if they don't pay attention to what they're doing. Our hope is nothing pops up, but we'll be ready in case it does."