The Pavilion originally wasn't slated to open until 2021

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Philadelphia now has 120 additional state-of-the-art hospital rooms available. The beds are in Penn Medicine’s brand new facility across from the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, and are ready for use as of this week, a spokesperson confirmed.

The Pavilion, a $1.5 billion add on to the HUP University City campus, was originally slated to open in 2021, but work was accelerated because of the pandemic.

Despite Gov. Wolf’s mandate that construction halt, this project was allowed to continue thanks to a waiver, which was advocated for in part by the Philadelphia Building and Construction Trades Council.

About 500 workers finished the partial construction in three weeks by working around the clock, according to Building Trades manager John J. Dougherty, who said they were split into three shifts to encourage social distancing, among other safety precautions.

“We did the obvious,” Dougherty told Billy Penn. “We did the social distancing, washing our hands, having access to hot water and proper disinfectants.” The trades members also had their temperatures checked upon entering the worksite.

The Pavilion will hold low-risk, non-COVID patients to make space for COVID patients should the need arise. Half the rooms will be designated for extended in-patient care while the other half will be used as an emergency department facility.

No patients have yet been admitted, Penn Medicine said in a statement, but hospital administrators “are constantly monitoring our capacity and are prepared to quickly launch plans to move into the new space.”

The HUP’s main building has 788 beds. Info isn’t available on how many are filled, but other parts of the hospital system are definitely feeling coronavirus strain.

Patrick Brennan, chief medical officer for Penn Medicine, told WHYY the system had seen a particularly high number of COVID patients at Penn Presbyterian Medical Center and at its Princeton Medical Center. At those locations, Brennan said, staff was forced to convert areas into critical care units and had no ICU beds open.

Overall, Philly has one of the higher hospital capacities in Pennsylvania, with 3.4 beds per 1,000 residents. That’s higher than the national average of 2.4 beds per 1,000 people.

Philly also has one of the highest hospital occupancy rates in the state, at about 71%. As of Tuesday, just over 1000 people were in Philly hospitals due to COVID-19, according to Health Commissioner Tom Farley.

Regionally, 33% of general medical beds and 29% of ICU beds were available, a higher rate than in previous days. “That may be a sign that we’re getting past the peak,” Farley said.

At the end of March, Temple University’s Liacouras Center was converted into a 180-bed patient care facility for COVID-19 patients. Designed for patients who do not require ventilation but still need to be hospitalized, it first accepted patients on Apr. 20, and has had a handful of people there each day since.

Penn announced the Pavilion in spring 2017, billing it as a futuristic take on the typical hospital. The 17-story, 1.5 million-square-foot structure, which will eventually have 500 rooms, is the most expensive undertaking in the health care system’s history. Construction was scheduled for completion next February, with patient intake beginning in summer 2021.

The hospital includes modern features that fit pretty darn well with our new age of coronavirus social distancing and quarantine. There are monitoring windows that allow nurses to observe patients without entering the room, and a feature that allows staff to stock patient rooms with linens and supplies from the hallway.

The Penn Pavilion project also employed a new off-site manufacturing initiative. It started three years ago because of worksite logistics, labor leader Dougherty said, but in the end it allowed for more social distancing.

“Despite the outbreak of corona, despite the time restraint…the construction of the facility went really well,” Dougherty said.

The unions are “just waiting for the word,” to continue completing the Pavilion, he said.

Layla A. Jones (she/her) was a general assignment reporter for Billy Penn from 2019 to 2021. Her work has helped underserved community organizations, earned free repairs for property owners who sustained...