March 27, 2020
By Paul J. Gough – Reporter, Pittsburgh Business Times
UPMC‘s transplant and specialty hospital in Sicily has created a 45-bed unit for COVID-19 patients and is working with the regional Italian government to acquire more personal protective equipment and ventilators from China for use there and, separately, potentially, in UPMC’s statewide system.
UPMC and the Region of Sicily founded ISMETT (Istituto Mediterraneo per i Trapianti e Terapie ad alta specializzazione) in June 1997 to provide transplant and high specialty care, including liver and lung transplants and complex pediatric surgery. It’s part of the region’s health system, providing its expertise and care during epidemics like the 2010 H1N1 flu outbreak and now, with COVID-19. While the entire country is on lockdown and has been since earlier this month, the center of the pandemic is in northern Italy near Milan. More than 8,000 people have died among 80,539 cases in the country. There have also been about 1,500 cases in Rome and, as of today, about 700 cases in Sicily, the far southern island below Italy’s boot.
“In Sicily, the number of cases is increasing but the situation is not as bad as it is in the north,” said Dr. Bruno Gridelli, managing director of UPMC Italy, in a video interview Friday morning from UPMC’s ISMETT hospital in Palermo. “Over the next couple of weeks we might develop a few thousand cases. We don’t know how many exactly.”
But UPMC Italy isn’t taking any chances. It’s ready to provide care to COVID-19 patients separate from the general hospital, safe from spreading the highly contagious virus to other patients and staff. It hasn’t been called on yet to provide that care, because the regular hospitals in Sicily aren’t yet overburdened like they are in northern Italy. The Sicily regional government is acquiring 250,000 PPEs for its health care system, including ISMETT, a shipment that could arrive as soon as next weekend depending on uncertain transportation. And SMETT is operating for the critical-care patients it has and is ready to expand when needed.
“The unit is pretty much ready. We’re waiting to have PPEs available,” Gridelli said. “We have enough PPEs here to actually use them within our transplant and high specialty hospital. Even if we don’t have any COVID-19 patients, there are certain procedures here where we have to use PPEs.” He said ISMETT is trying to wait to make sure there’s enough PPEs shipped but will in an emergency take a COVID-19 patient now. He also said the staff is also ready. Gridelli himself moved down from his Rome base to Sicily about a week ago. “Everybody has been very well informed, educated and trained to use all of these needed precautions,” Gridelli said. “Business, I can’t say it’s usual of course, but we keep working and doing whatever we can to keep treating (patients) in the best possible way.” It did a liver transplant a couple of days ago and it’s also continuing care in oncology and other surgical cases that just can’t be postponed.
Beyond the specialty hospital in Sicily, UPMC has two oncology centers further north, one in Rome and one near Naples. They’re both active and treating patients, as well. Gridelli said the regional governments there have indicated that these centers should keep operating, with proper precautions. And both centers, Gridelli said, had a patient each that later turned out to test positive for COVID-19. But there were no infections among patients or staff.
“Fortunately all the procedures to prevent the spread of infection to the staff and other patients were taken, so nothing happened,” Gridelli said. Gridelli said that UPMC’s long association in Italy is helping the government as well as making the Pittsburgh-based health care system even more indispensable than it was before.
There’s also a potential major benefit to UPMC’s operations in the United States by what UPMC Italy is doing to secure PPEs, ventilators and other supplies from China. Gridelli said there’s always uncertainty about the reliability of vendors that they haven’t worked with before but working with its siblings at UPMC China, they’re able to find out more about the quality and trustworthiness of manufacturers.
“A couple of days ago, with UPMC China, we did a Zoom visit to one of the factories making the masks and gowns and suits,” Gridelli said. “By looking at the factories and also the way in which they work and the quality of material by visual inspection, they seem very, very good.”
Where we are
Find our medical centers in Italy (Sicily, Lazio, Tuscany)
The Italian division of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center with facilities in Rome (UPMC Hillman Cancer Center at San Pietro FBF, oncology radiotherapy and UPMC Salvator Mundi International Hospital), Palermo (ISMETT IRCCS, organ transplants and highly specialized therapies and Ri.MED Foundation, research), Chianciano Terme (UPMC Institute for Health, preventive medicine and Medical Gym), Mirabella Eclano (UPMC Hillman Cancer Center at Villa Maria, oncology radiotherapy).
UPMC is an integrated global health enterprise headquartered in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. With its clinical, training, research, and managerial knowledge and expertise, UPMC is one of the leading health systems in the United States.
UPMC International offers a full range of health care consulting and management services focused on sharing our clinical, technological and managerial knowledge and expertise with partners around the world, customizing solutions so that patients and regions benefit and thrive.