JOPLIN, Mo. —
When calling in a patient’s prescription on Sunday, Libby Clark said she had to stop and fight back tears.
“I always say ‘this is Libby Clark, emergency room nurse at St. John’s,’” she said. “I just stopped, because I realized, after 17 years here, I wasn’t sure when I was going to be able to say that again.”
A week earlier, St. John’s Regional Medical Center was decimated by the EF-5 tornado that leveled parts of Joplin and suburban Duquesne. The hospital was evacuated, 183 patients relocated, and operations were moved to Memorial Hall.
St. John’s officials on Sunday chose the precise time of the tornado, a week later, to celebrate the opening of a new 60-bed field hospital on the parking lot within sight of the damaged building. Surrounded by St. John’s employees, supporters and others, Bishop James Van Johnston of the Springfield-Cape Girardeau Diocese presided over a ceremony to bless the new structure and joined with hospital officials to celebrate plans for a new medical center.
“It’s been one week, and we’re back,” said Dottie Bringle, director of nursing. “That’s so important to us, because we’ve been so supported by the community.”
The field hospital offers 20 beds for emergency room patients, 40 in-patient beds, surgical suites, a pharmacy, and MRI and CT scan capabilities. By the time of Sunday’s ceremony, 14 patients had been treated there, and a surgery had been performed.
Bringle said a kitchen is being delivered and a second operating room will arrive next week.
If necessary, more structures can be added, said Miranda Lewis, hospital spokeswoman. She said the temporary building will be in operation for three to six months, before an interim structure is built to serve patients until a new hospital is finished.
“This is temporary; wait until you see what’s coming,” said Gary Pulsipher, president and chief executive of the hospital.
St. John’s will rebuild, and will keep all of its 1,800 employees on staff while a new hospital is constructed, he said.
“We may have to get creative, but the jobs won’t stop,” said Pulsipher. “If we lost all this skill and talent, it would take years to get it back.”
He credited the commitment of officials of the Sisters of Mercy Health System to St. John’s and to Joplin, where the hospital has been in operation since 1896.
‘HERE TO STAY’
“Mercy is here, and it’s here to stay,” said Lynn Britton, president of Sisters of Mercy Health System.
He praised St. John’s employees, noting particularly those who worked to empty the hospital in a span of 90 minutes after the tornado.
“They fought a force of nature, and they won,” he said.
The temporary structure was delivered by the Taney County Ambulance District, where it had been used for training. It was erected in a single day by specialized crews, Lewis said, with power and water added the next day. The operation is served by the same monitoring telemetry, laboratory support and technology, including the hospital’s electronic health record system, which went into operation May 1.
According to Bob Dodson, a physician who helped set up the temporary hospital, the system contains all of the hospital’s computerized records to eliminate the concern about paper charts being lost or damaged by water or rain.