The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

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May 19, 2012

Two hospitals, one disaster

Joplin’s hospitals combine efforts in time of crisis

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. — It is 7 a.m. when Shilo Cook clocks in at St. John’s Regional Medical Center, the start of a 12-hour nursing shift that begins ordinarily enough on this Sunday morning — taking vitals, drawing blood, tending to a patient with stroke-like symptoms who needs an EKG.

The one thing that Cook, a registered nurse who is four-months pregnant, is not paying attention to is the weather. A few co-workers pick up on a tornado watch broadcast by The Weather Channel, but no one is alarmed. It’s routine for the Four States this time of year.

***

Like Cook, Rod Pace also isn’t supposed to be at St. John’s this day.

But an out-of-state death of a relative means a funeral in a few days so the MedFlight director stops by the hospital to do payroll; later, he wants to meet up with his son for a workout at Powerhouse Gym.

At 5 p.m., as he’s wrapping up, he notices the darkening sky, rain beginning to fall.

Weather is critical for Pace and his flight crew. Their safety and the safety of the patients being transported depends on knowing the weather in their 75-mile service radius.

Pace decides to wait it out at the hospital — no use getting wet. Besides, he isn’t in a hurry. Pilots Jack Ball and Bob Dutton also are watching the weather.

The forecast indicates the worst of the storm will pass north of Joplin, near the airport, which is where they normally shelter MedFlight’s BK117 helicopter if storms are expected near the hospital. It’s a five-minute flight.

“There’s going to be hail at the airport, and we don’t fly into hail,” Pace says to his pilots, who agree.

The rule book and common sense tells them to stay put.

***

During his rounds this day, Dr. Alan Buchele has seen some 30 to 35 patients at St. John’s. Nearly half of the 367 beds are full.

Ready for a break, the trauma surgeon decides to head home to Carl Junction to see his family for a few hours, with plans to return to the hospital after supper.

He and his wife are eager to see a video of their eldest daughter’s school play. They settle down in front of the television.

***

ER Manager Sandy Woods is at home with her husband, a Joplin paramedic. It’s Sunday in Southwest Missouri. They fire up the grill.

They live on the south side of the county, two miles from St. John’s. Their barbecue is called off, however, when the weather radio advises that severe storms are rolling into Jasper County.

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