JOPLIN, Mo. —
In a ceremony Friday morning, Mercy Health Systems announced a gift of $5 million from the United Arab Emirates toward a wing of its new hospital, which will replace the storm-destroyed St. John’s Regional Medical Center.
“If there has ever been a comeback story in one year, I think Joplin is that story,” said Yousef Al Otaiba, ambassador to the U.S., in an interview after the ceremony.
Al Otaiba said that immediately following news coverage of the May 22 storm, he received a phone call from the crown prince of Abu Dhabi asking how to help. Al Otaiba and his staff reached out to the Joplin School District and Mercy Health Systems.
“What you’re seeing today is the beginning of the building of one of the most advanced hospitals in the Joplin area,” Al Otaiba said. Mercy is investing hundreds of millions of dollars in a new hospital complex at Interstate 44 and Hearnes Boulevard. The gift will be used to help fund a pediatrics section and neonatal intensive care unit.
“So we’re proud,” Al Otaiba said. “We’re proud and privileged to be associated with a health care program and an educational program that will make Joplin once again back where it should be.”
During the ceremony, Al Otaiba noted he and his country felt a moral obligation to help the city. Additionally, the donation serves as an example of international relations.
“People of the U.A.E. now know more about the people of Joplin, and I think the people of Joplin know more about the people of the U.A.E., and in my world, that’s a good thing,” he said in an interview.
The city of Joplin declared Friday “People of the United Arab Emirates Day,” and the new pediatric wing will be named in honor of the donors, Mercy officials announced.
“We may have lost our hospital, but we never lost our spirit,” said Danny Thomas, chairman of the board for Mercy Hospital Joplin, during the ceremony.
The ambassador was presented with a framed rendering of the new hospital to keep. Students from the Irving Elementary School fifth-grade choir sang at the beginning of the ceremony.
Mercy officials said the donation was a pleasant surprise and will help the hospital become a leader in the region.
“It really came out of the blue and to see their dedication to this kind of rebuilding effort is amazing,” Gary Pulsipher, president of Mercy Hospital Joplin, said in an interview. “For Mercy, it helps us and is a great support for us in all this expense that we have. We couldn’t have imagined a gift like that.”
Before the ceremony at the site of the future hospital, the ambassador and Missouri U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt met with Joplin High School students. The United Arab Emirates made a contribution to the school district’s laptop initiative last August, providing a total of $1 million in funding for laptops for every high school student.
“Today was an opportunity to showcase the work that had gone on in the school district this year,” said Superintendent C.J. Huff. “We had the opportunity to sit down and visit at length about some of the challenges and opportunities that the generous gift gave to us. We also talked about a vision for the future in preparing competitive workers for a globally competitive work force.”
The United Arab Emirates also sent volunteers to a Habitat for Humanity “blitz build” last fall.
Blunt, at the ceremony, said that the United Arab Emirates, “reaching out in this way, specifically to this community, is a great example of what we do by being friends and what we can do by sharing challenges.”
The United Arab Emirates is located in the Persian Gulf and is made up of seven city-states. It is a member of the United Nations, World Trade Organization, the Arab League and the Gulf Cooperation Council. The country is a U.S. ally and provided aid to the U.S. following Hurricane Katrina.