By Wally Kennedy
JOPLIN, Mo. —
Julie Blankenship, a registered nurse with what now is Mercy Hospital Joplin, took a break Wednesday to recount the places she has worked since the May 22 tornado.
“First, it was a ditch,” she said. “Then it was Memorial Hall. Then we worked in the tent and the modular hospital. Now, we have this. It feels like a permanent hospital. One thing’s for certain: We keep getting better and better.”
On Wednesday, Mercy Hospital Joplin opened its doors to the public with a ribbon-cutting ceremony in advance of bringing patients to the $100 million component hospital on Sunday.
The hospital, located at 2817 St. John’s Blvd., will be used for the next three years while a new Mercy Hospital Joplin is constructed on a 100-acre campus at East 50th Street and Hearnes Boulevard. That hospital will be four times larger than the component hospital.
Gary Pulsipher, president of the hospital, said the component hospital, which took about 8 1/2 months to erect, might be used for some other purpose when the new hospital is opened, but no definite plans have been made. It is constructed of components, which will be disconnected at some point and moved to another site.
“We have a much bigger capacity now,” he said. “We’ll be able to deliver babies again. Another important thing is that we wanted to get into this building in time for the storm season.”
The design of the hospital includes a number of “condition gray” safety zones in interior corridors where people can seek shelter in the event of threatening weather. A Mercy spokesman said the steel and concrete structure is 30 percent stronger than the code requirements that were in place when the former St. John’s hospital was constructed. The glass in the hospital is rated to withstand winds of 200 mph. The EF-5 tornado that struck Joplin had winds of at least 200 mph and destroyed St. John’s.
The hospital was constructed with 224 custom units that were transported by trailer, and in some cases by train, from Walden Structures manufacturing plants in Southern California. Some of the units were 60 feet long by 14 feet wide and high. When the units arrived in Joplin, workers bolted them together.
The 150,000-square-foot hospital has 55 private rooms that can be converted into 110 semi-private rooms should the need arise. The emergency department has three triage rooms, 17 exam rooms and three trauma rooms. Surgeons can again conduct complex, open-heart procedures. The hospital has 10 labor and delivery rooms.
Patient rooms have the latest monitoring features and communication capabilities. The hospital also has a cafeteria, gift shop, pharmacy and chapel.
All of the medical equipment in the hospital is new. In some cases, it is better than the equipment used at the old hospital, St. John’s Regional Medical Center. The new hospital has a new CT scanner that captures images with twice the resolution.
Mike McCurry, Mercy’s executive vice president and chief operating officer, told those assembled for tours of the hospital on Wednesday that Mercy never considered leaving Joplin after the tornado, though only four of its 40 buildings in Joplin survived the storm.
“Our commitment was to the community, not to buildings,” he said.
McCurry said that when Walden Structures was approached about building the hospital, Mercy was told it would take at least 15 months to do the projects. By working around the clock with as many 500 workers on the site at a time, the project was completed within 8 1/2 months.
“What’s been done here has never been done before in the history of the country,” he said.
SISTERS OF MERCY HEALTH SYSTEM is the eighth largest Catholic health care system in the U.S. and serves more than 3 million people annually. Mercy has 31 hospitals, more than 200 outpatient operations, and 38,000 employees in Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri and Oklahoma.