Seek­ing shel­ter

As tor­nado bore down, res­i­dents flocked to hos­pi­tal

Modern Healthcare - - THE WEEK IN HEALTHCARE - Joe Carl­son

Though hos­pi­tals tend not to en­cour­age the prac­tice, last week’s mon­ster tor­nado in cen­tral Ok­la­homa proved once again that med­i­cal cen­ters be­come ir­re­sistible gath­er­ing places for fear­ful and dis­pos­sessed res­i­dents dur­ing large-scale nat­u­ral dis­as­ters.

Re­cent his­tory shows that med­i­cal cen­ters are vul­ner­a­ble to heavy storm dam­age. Yet in lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties, hos­pi­tals are large, stur­dy­look­ing build­ings that many peo­ple as­so­ciate with safety—and of­ten they’re the only place with the lights still on.

By the time a deadly tor­nado pack­ing 200-mph winds made a di­rect hit on Moore (Okla.) Med­i­cal Cen­ter, the hos­pi­tal had some 300 peo­ple in­side it. As many as half of them were nei­ther pa­tients nor em­ploy­ees, but mem­bers of the pub­lic who had flocked to the med­i­cal cen­ter’s hall­ways and rooms for pro­tec­tion.

David Whitaker, pres­i­dent and CEO of Moore’s cor­po­rate par­ent, Nor­man (Okla.) Re­gional Health Sys­tem, said sim­i­lar scenes played out at the sys­tem’s other two lo­ca­tions in the re­gion that day as well.

Three miles north of Moore, at In­te­gris South­west Med­i­cal Cen­ter in Ok­la­homa City, emer­gency medicine co­or­di­na­tor Dr. David Ho­gan said his hos­pi­tal con­tended with “a base­ment full of folks who had nowhere else to go” on top of the 91 emer­gency pa­tients it treated for storm-re­lated in­jures.

“We be­come kind of the bea­con in the neigh­bor­hood,” Whitaker said. “We are not des­ig­nated as a pub­lic shel­ter. It cre­ates a sit­u­a­tion where you are fo­cused on your pa­tients, but frankly, we ex­ist to care for the peo­ple in our lo­cal com­mu­nity. Peo­ple show up and we take them in … we have des­ig­nated ar­eas where we house peo­ple.”

Whitaker de­scribed a kind of fre­netic “conga line” where mem­bers of the pub­lic—some with their pets in tow—file into the build­ing in the min­utes be­fore a tor­nadic storm and are di­rected quickly to safe ar­eas: “We don’t lock our neigh­bors out. If they are at our doors, we will take them in.”

Yet hos­pi­tals are not im­per­vi­ous to pow­er­ful storms.

The May 20 twister in Ok­la­homa un­leashed ex­ten­sive dam­age to Moore Med­i­cal Cen­ter’s sec­ond floor and filled the park­ing lot with de­stroyed cars and trucks.

In May 2011, a pow­er­ful tor­nado struck St. John’s Re­gional Med­i­cal Cen­ter in Jo­plin, Mo., heav­ily dam­ag­ing the nine-story build­ing and caus­ing the deaths of five crit­i­cal-care pa­tients and a vis­i­tor. In May 2007, a tor­nado de­stroyed Kiowa County Me­mo­rial Hos­pi­tal in Greens­burg, Kan., only two months af­ter an­other tor­nado de­stroyed Sumter Re­gional Hos­pi­tal in Amer­i­cus, Ga.

The hos­pi­tals in Kansas and Ge­or­gia were re­built, and a new Mercy Hos­pi­tal Jo­plin is slated to re­open in 2015; an in­terim fa­cil­ity is now serv­ing the area.

In Ok­la­homa, sys­tem of­fi­cials are still await­ing word from in­sur­ers whether Moore Med­i­cal Cen­ter will be de­clared a to­tal loss, though Whitaker said that’s what most health sys­tem of­fi­cials think will hap­pen. Ei­ther way, Nor­man Re­gional Health Sys­tem in­tends to re­build.

“The com­mu­nity re­ally sup­ports our ef­forts there,” he said. “We will be back there. What it will look like, we don’t know yet, but we are not go­ing away.”

In the mean­time, the sys­tem is fo­cused on re­open­ing two med­i­cal of­fice build­ings ad­ja­cent to the hos­pi­tal to pro­vide pri­mary care and men­tal health ser­vices that are sorely needed.

Dire as the sit­u­a­tion may have felt in­side the hos­pi­tal to those who were there, it be­came clear in the hours af­ter the storm passed that Moore Med­i­cal Cen­ter was a source of some of the most pos­i­tive news last week in the city of 55,000 peo­ple.

Aerial im­ages showed scores of res­i­den­tial blocks re­duced to splin­ters and rub­ble, neigh­bor­hoods so dec­i­mated that with­out street signs it was dif­fi­cult for res­i­dents to tell where they were. The tor­nado dam­aged two el­e­men­tary schools, tear­ing one apart and leav­ing 10 chil­dren dead, the As­so­ci­ated Press re­ported. As of May 24, the death toll stood at 24. At Moore Med­i­cal Cen­ter, none of the 13 in­pa­tients and 17 out­pa­tients in­side the hospi-

tal when the tor­nado hit were harmed by the storm or dur­ing tran­sit to Nor­man Re­gional’s other cam­puses and clin­ics to the south. Among the larger pop­u­la­tion in­side the build­ing, in­juries were limited to things such as wounds from stepped-on nails.

“The courage, the heart and the pre­pared­ness of our em­ploy­ees, it was just un­be­liev­able,” Whitaker said.

Soon af­ter, the world learned the har­row­ing story of a young mother who was in la­bor on the sec­ond floor of Moore Med­i­cal Cen­ter when the tor­nado struck. Un­like the other pa­tients, Shayla Prevost-Tay­lor could not be moved down­stairs be­cause she was in heavy la­bor and ready to give birth.

Rather than evac­u­ate, Tay­lor’s nurses stayed on the sec­ond floor with her and weath­ered the storm to­gether in place, even as fierce winds sheared a wall and ex­posed the room to open air. She gave birth at Nor­man Re­gional’s Health­Plex to a healthy baby at 7:25 p.m., four hours af­ter the tor­nado touch­down. The fam­ily named their new son Brae­den Im­manuel, whose mid­dle name is He­brew for “God is with us.”

GETTY IM­AGES

Moore (Okla.) Med­i­cal Cen­ter had some 300 peo­ple in­side when the tor­nado struck last week. All sur­vived.

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