Coping with disaster in the age of preparedness, social media and HIPAA
Rebuilding a hospital decimated by natural disaster would be tough enough. St. John’s Regional Medical Center in Joplin, Mo., faces particularly difficult obstacles that go beyond the physical destruction caused by the tornado.
Executives for 347-bed St. John’s and its parent, Sisters of Mercy Health System, Chesterfield, Mo., must continue to manage the immediate needs of the damaged hospital, its employees and the community. At the same time they must begin the long-term work of deciding what the new St. John’s will look like. They will do so under the increasing demands of healthcare reform, with an eye toward keeping its relationships with referring doctors, and while battling for patients with a locally based rival in a competitive healthcare market, experts say.
In addition to those existential challenges, St. John’s must sort out the highly unusual privacy breach of paper medical records falling out of the sky after the tornado struck Joplin on May 22, forging a three-quartermile-wide path of near total destruction estimated to be six miles long. At deadline, an estimated 132 people had died and 156 were missing, and HHS had declared the state a public health disaster area. In the midst of the storm, which blew out the hospital’s windows and left some walls missing, St. John’s clinicians and staffers evacuated 183 patients to hospitals nearby and in the region. Officials for the hospital are unsure if the remaining building is usable.
“It will be a challenge” to get St. John’s rebuilt given what’s happened to the hospital itself and the community, said Brian Haapala, managing director with consultancy Stroudwater Associates, Portland, Maine. “You have to commend the efforts of the leadership of the organization to restabilize,” Haapala said. And while it’s hard to think about in the middle of a disaster, Mercy officials will have to start making decisions, he said.
Mercy Health and St. John’s vowed to rebuild with an array of services. “It will definitely be an acute-care hospital,’’ said Lynn Britton, president and CEO of Sisters of Mercy Health System. “It will be a wonderful opportunity to reimagine” how to provide healthcare in Joplin, he said.
As a part of that, Mercy and St. John’s will have some hard questions to answer as they
The tornado, which blew out windows throughout the hospital and scattered medical
records around the region, left the interior of St. John’s in a shambles.