On April 8, skies will darken midday in 15 states in a much-anticipated total solar eclipse, bringing a surge of spectators to locations in the path of totality. Healthcare leaders in areas within the path of totality should plan now to prepare for potential risks that may impact healthcare facilities during the eclipse.


On April 8, skies will darken midday in 15 states across the U.S., in a much-anticipated total solar eclipse

As excitement builds, big surges of spectators are expected to flock to locations in the path of totality. How big of a surge? Local population could quadruple, say public safety experts. “Think 17 NFL games ending at the same time and fans trying to make their way home,” shares Scott Cormier, Vice President, Emergency Management, Environment of Care, and Safety at Medxcel, recalling past events in Oregon, Alabama and Southern Illinois.  

More people and more vehicles on the roads mean incidents requiring medical care are far more likely — particularly in smaller communities that aren’t equipped for a massive influx. What’s more, visitors may get lost and separated from their families, and communication systems may experience disruptions, say local officials. Meanwhile, public safety agencies could be overwhelmed with requests for assistance and have difficulty navigating congested roadways. 

For healthcare facilities in the path of the eclipse, it’s a recipe for unusually high patient demand at a time when staff and supply availability could be disrupted. Effective response begins now, with careful preparations for the cosmic event.

Anticipating Transportation, Coverage, and Supply Challenges

Facilities served by Medxcel that are in the path of totality include locations in Waco (TX), Indianapolis and Evansville (IN). In all, people along a 115-mile strip across the U.S. will see the moon cover the sun and create a bright ring over the sky. To prepare for the eclipse, Medxcel safety and emergency management leaders are borrowing lessons and processes from severe weather events. “We plan for what we think will happen, mindful that it could go to a higher or lower extreme,” Cormier explains.  

Take the influx of spectators, for example. Traffic gridlock is to be expected when you have three to four times more vehicles on the road and drivers are slowing or stopping to glance at the skies. We’ve learned from past events that spectators tend to flock to the best viewing spots and set up a roadside camp, causing an hours-long traffic standstill.  

How can hospital leaders ensure staff makes it to work in time for their shifts? With that in mind, Medxcel has worked on schedules for Medxcel associates working at affected client facilities months in advance to better understand possible staffing challenges. Potential school closures or spring breaks present additional planning considerations. Proactive planning involves providing information to associates early enough to aid in personal planning and offering options for them to stay in or near their workplace to avoid travel delays. 

The movement of patients, whether from emergency vehicles, private vehicles, or transfers from other healthcare facilities is another critical planning component. “If traffic is bad enough, we potentially could land a helicopter to take patients to our partner hospitals or one of the surrounding hospitals,” Cormier adds. 

It’s also important for hospital leaders to plan for potential supply chain disruptions. “We’re partnering with hospital leaders to have supplies, food, and medications delivered the day before to make sure they don’t get caught in a traffic jam,” Cormier notes. Other options include receiving additional supplies based on estimates for additional patients. 

Reducing Security Risks

Though the security footprint varies from one facility to another, consider that spectators might seek out prime viewing spots for the solar eclipse, like your hospital’s rooftop or the top level of your parking garages. Ensure buildings are secured, and access to hospital and emergency departments is not obstructed. This may require extra rounding by security teams, or bringing in additional security staffing.

Eclipse Day Operations

How will you counter emerging issues, quickly and efficiently, on the day of the eclipse? On April 8, Medxcel is setting up a national command center headquartered in Indianapolis, where Medxcel Safety, Environment of Care, and Emergency Management teams will be in close touch with all partner hospitals in the path of totality. The idea is to have critical leadership in one room so they can discern best steps and counsel hospitals quickly, as needs arise.

Practice, Practice, Practice

Tabletop exercises are great tools to explore possible needs and constraints, helping hospital leaders spot and correct potential issues so they don’t fall short when called to serve. Medxcel teams have planned and practiced each of the components we’ve covered so far — not just with one or two hospitals, but at all facilities we serve in the path of totality. 

Planning and mitigation should begin early, and leadership teams should review plans as new information becomes available closer to the eclipse. It is important to brief healthcare executives on potential risks and develop guidance for all levels of management, giving consistent messages across the org chart, from the CEO to frontline staff.  

Healthcare leaders should anticipate and prepare for potential risks, just as you would manage an impending severe weather threat. In doing so, you’ll give your facilities and the teams under your care the best conditions to alleviate pain in your communities.

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