The Heart of a Hospital
We soon will mark the one-year anniversary of the tornado that rocked Joplin, Missouri, destroying one-third of the town as well as its hospital.
Increasing in intensity in the late afternoon of May 22, 2011, the storm—one of the deadliest in U.S. history— had grown into an EF-5 tornado by the time it reached the former St. John’s Medical Center around 5:30 p.m.
It took only moments to reduce the structure to a shadow of its former self.
I had the privilege to hear this tale told firsthand by three individuals who are close not only to the former hospital but to its ongoing replacement project and new life as Mercy Hospital Joplin: Dottie Bringle, RN, CNO/COO, Mercy Hospital Joplin; Kevin Wagner, regional manager, Mercy Planning, Design, and Construction; and Ken Cates, SASHE, principal, Northstar Management.
The group took part in a session at this year’s ASHE PDC Summit in Phoenix, relating the tale of the destruction, as well as lessons learned in disaster preparedness, and sharing progress Mercy was making on rebuilding the facility.
This rebuilding has progressed in such a short time span, from the original tent hospital that served Joplin just days after the storm to the 150,000-square-foot modular facility that is now in operation. The next phase of the process will be a new build, 600,000-square-foot hospital scheduled to open in 2015.
Hearing these stories not only of the destruction, but of the immediate response to it, is something I won’t soon forget.
It wasn’t just the panelists who left a mark on me, but the staff members who were interviewed for a video that was played for conference attendees at the start of the session—from a nurse who was left with no choice but to lie on top of a critical care patient, grasping onto bed rails as the storm swept over them, to staffers who knew their own homes were destroyed but stayed to immediately begin managing the destruction at the hospital.
Also notable is throughout the process, the hospital, as the largest employer in the city, pledged to keep all of its 2,000 staff members on its payroll, working to find them jobs in the replacement facilities or at other nearby healthcare centers.
After all, as this disaster teaches us, it’s the people inside who comprise the true heart of a hospital, who provide the lifeblood needed for operations each day. At the same time, the facility itself can also serve as the heart of a town—in this case, not only being a center where victims could find treatment but as an anchor for the local economy, as well.
To mark the anniversary, the city of Joplin is holding a number of events, including a Walk of Unity that will follow the path of the tornado on that day one year ago.
In recognition of how far this rebuilding process has come, here is a lineup of some of the ongoing coverage from Healthcare Building Ideas: