By Wally Kennedy
JOPLIN, Mo. —
Gov. Jay Nixon and Paula Baker, president of Freeman Health System, stopped for a moment Monday at a fifth-floor window of the Gary & Donna Hall Tower to survey the tornado-ravaged landscape just a few blocks north of Freeman Hospital West.
“It’s so close,” Nixon said.
Had it tracked farther to the south, the tornado would have taken out both of Joplin’s hospitals. Had that happened, hundreds of people likely would not have received critical medical care the night of the tornado and in the weeks that followed.
The fact that Freeman was spared was not lost on Nixon when he joined hospital officials and staff members for a ribbon-cutting ceremony to open the newly completed fifth floor of the Hall Tower.
“You faced an unprecedented and overwhelming challenge to provide healing and comfort for hundreds of people, many of them grievously injured,” Nixon said. “You did it with skill, with compassion, and with a seemingly endless reservoir of energy to not only get through those first few weeks, but also the months that followed. Your patients and their families were truly blessed to be under your care.”
“Everything about health care in Joplin has changed since May 22,” Baker said. “With the completion of the fifth and sixth floors at Freeman West, everything will change yet again.”
The ceremony gave those attending a first look at the 24,000-square-foot space, which will provide 29 private cardiology, medical and surgical beds. It opens next Monday. Freeman’s bed total is now 446.
Freeman began construction on the $8 million fifth-floor project last August. With the expected completion of the sixth floor in October, all floors of the Hall Tower will be ready to accommodate patients.
The fifth floor will employ 52 new clinical staff members. When completed, the sixth floor will add 29 beds to be attended by an estimated 70 clinical staff members.
Baker said the new beds are desperately needed. In February, Freeman had the highest average daily patient census of any time in its history. The combined daily patient count at Freeman West and Freeman East reached an average of 326, topping the system’s patient count in June of last year, when the Joplin community was still reeling from the aftermath of the May 22 tornado.
“Ours is a community that does not let tragedy prevent us from acting,” Baker said. “It might seem inconceivable that a mere 297 days ago, planning for this floor had not even begun. It might seem impossible that a few short months ago, much of this city lay in ruins. But look at where we are today. This community is rebuilding and, alongside it, Freeman is expanding to meet its needs.”
When the Hall Tower was constructed in 2007, the fifth and sixth floors were added at the recommendation of Freeman’s board of directors. Both floors were left unfinished for future growth.
“We knew at the time this space would someday fulfill a purpose,” said Jeffrey Carrier, chief clinical officer for Freeman. “But we could have never imagined this floor would become the necessity it is today, given our growing patient volume since May 22.”
Patient input influenced the design of the floor space. The rooms create an atmosphere more like a hotel than a hospital. Each patient room features ample sitting areas for family members and guests. Flat-screen TVs are standard.
The fifth floor also is home to eight infusion bays. Patients will be able to receive daily IV medications and injections there.
EACH ROOM on Freeman Hospital West’s new fifth floor has a touch-screen call system that puts the patient into immediate contact with a nurse.