JOPLIN, Mo. — The Sisters of Mercy have made a commitment to spend as much as $543 million on a new state-of-the-art hospital—slated to open in 2014—to replace St. John’s Regional Medical Center, which was destroyed by an EF-5 tornado.
The May 22 tornado, which packed winds of up to 198 miles per hour, killed five patients and one visitor at the 367-bed hospital. The victims were among a total of 154 people killed by the severe weather in this southwestern Missouri city of 50,000 people.
Hospital staff and patients received a 20-minute warning that the tornado was headed toward the city, according to Endicott. That gave hospital staff time to implement their emergency plan, which consisted of two parts: One, evacuate patients from their rooms to safe places, such as corridors, stairwells or interiors of the building, where they would be less likely to be directly impacted; and two, protect those patients who could not be safely moved.
A total of 183 patients and an unknown number of relatives and visitors were in the building when emergency management declared a Condition Gray.
In the frightening moments when the tornado struck, the building shook, the rooms went dark, glass shattered and swirled, and the air was sucked out. Emergency management reported the conditions inside the hospital lasted a minute or more, while the entire building seemed to be engulfed in the deafening roar of the tornado. Endicott described it as “the scariest experience I’ve ever had to endure.” When the tornado finally passed, an eerie still descended. Staff members walked from patient to patient using flashlights.
The twister cut a swath of damage through Joplin that officials estimated was nearly a mile wide and four miles long. As much as 30% of the city was damaged or destroyed.
Under Mercy’s new capital plan, the new hospital in Joplin will consist of 327 in-patient beds, with the potential to expand to 424 beds. Ground will be broken for the new facility in January, with construction expected to last approximately two years.
Mercy is also planning to add a secondary, northeast campus in Joplin. That campus is anticipated for completion sometime in 2014. That will boost overall construction spending to a total of $950 million at the time of completion. The projects are expected to have an invigorating effect on the devastated economy of the small city.
The Sisters of Mercy came to Joplin and opened its first hospital in 1896. Today, Mercy is the eighth largest Catholic health system in the U.S. It has more than 36,000 employees and operates in seven Midwest states, primarily Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma and Arkansas.
Lynn Britton, president and CEO of Mercy Health, says that rebuilding the hospital will “set in motion a new Joplin landscape and economic recovery.”
“We are making this commitment because it’s the right thing to do for Joplin,” Britton says. “The May 22 tornado devastated our community here in Joplin and destroyed our hospital. But we’ve promised all along that we would rebuild. We’ve been through hard times before—perhaps nothing quite on the magnitude of this—but our commitment to Joplin remains strong.”