Spring in the midwest means tornadoes, and a hospital that can handle them

By: April 13th, 2015 Email This Post Print This Post

After watching the news reports of the devastation caused by the tornadoes out in the Midwest last week—and hearing the relief in the voice of my aunt who lives 20 miles away from an Illinois town that was completely wiped out by a monster twister—I have a newfound respect for the weather.

As the weather turns warm, I also have a bit of a soft spot for the healthcare safety folks who have to prepare for the onslaught of severe weather that inevitably marks the arrival of spring every year. We may have had our share of a tough winter here in the Boston area, but I sleep soundly at night knowing spring will arrive with showery weather at worst. A monster windstorm that can wipe out a facility in seconds with 300 mile-per-hour winds is just something folks here don’t worry about.

It’s a much different story in the Midwest, and that’s why I was so excited to hear (and to write) about the grand reopening of Mercy Joplin Hospital in Missouri late last month. It’s been about four years since the previous hospital, St. John’s Regional Medical Center, was completely destroyed after a direct hit from an EF-5 tornado in May 2011. It’s really pretty amazing that anyone survived; the roof of the building was blown off, cars in the parking lot were tossed like toys into the hospital’s waiting room, almost every exterior window shattered, communication was completely shut down, and an electrical generator and HVAC system on top of the hospital was tossed off the building and rendered useless.

Still, only six people in the hospital died, as the facility’s well-rehearsed emergency plan went into place and staff members evacuated 183 patients from the building.

The community pulled together and on March 7, Joplin opened its new $450-million hospital with features that make it as “tornado-proof” as it can be. Logistical things such as concrete bunkers that house backup utilities underground, as well as glass panels that can withstand a twister’s changes in atmospheric pressure will at least allow the hospital to stay operational and safer should the unthinkable ever happen again.

I’d like to personally congratulate Mercy Joplin on their new digs, and I think anyone interested in learning how to harden their own facility against the worst the weather has to throw at us should take a good, long look at Joplin.










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