After Joplin tornado, center gives quick aid

You can't believe everything you hear on TV.

After tornados were reported in the area of Joplin, MO, in May, Jenny Morris, administrator of Stateline Surgery Center in Galena, KS, turned to the local television station. The station reported that there was merely debris damage at St. John's Regional Medical Center in Joplin, which is about 10 minutes from the center.

Morris sent a text to a member of her board, who was out of town, to let him know what was going on. He informed her that the Weather Channel already was showing that the hospital had been seriously damaged by the tornado. In fact, the hospital was closing and evacuating patients.

Morris immediately called her maintenance staff person to find out if the generator at her center was working. It was, and by the time she arrived at the center, the power was back on. "Once I knew we were on full power and we were not damaged, I called the president and said, 'I think we need to open up.'" He agreed.

Morris sent a text to all of the center's staff and physicians to inform them that they were opening. Two nurses had to crawl out of stores that were extensively damaged, and one of those nurses was limping when she arrived. Even the PRN staff showed up. Some of the staff from the hospital came, as well as some others from a surgery center in Joplin where Morris worked previously. In about 45 minutes, the center had enough staff on site to open. "We had more surgeons than we needed," she says.

Cell towers were not working, so Morris used texts to get out the word that the center was accepting patients. She texted surgeons at the hospital. One staff member's spouse went to the police department and asked them to notify emergency responders that they could bring injured persons to the center. "Once we did start receiving patients through ambulances, I told the EMTs, 'get on the radio and tell them, you can bring patients here.'"

St. John's brought two busloads of patients to the surgery center. "We worked to get patients to another hospital," Morris says. "They were here for several hours, with nowhere to go."

Staff worked continuously from Sunday afternoon until 5 p.m. Monday. The center treated 68 patients for mostly abrasions and fractures. One storm victim had a board through her shoulder, so the staff performed a shoulder reconstruction. Supplies, including oxygen tanks, were contributed by other facilities including St. John's. Additionally, members of the community contributed a large amount of food for members of the staff and the patients.

On Tuesday, members of the staff saw a few patients for follow up, and then they started distributing supplies to other facilities that needed them. They distributed the leftover food to shelters.

Now the center is trying to assist a large number of surgeons who want to join the facility. Because the facility is in Kansas, the Missouri physicians must obtain a Kansas license. The governor's office is assisting by having their county included in the Missouri disaster area.

Members of the staff were prepared for the disaster: They perform tornado drills every spring. Still, they learned a lesson. Most of the drills had focused on the center being hit by a tornado and how they would take care of the patients already there. Now, drills will incorporate communication difficulties and the handling of an external disaster.

"If the community is struck, we're treating them, more than we're hit," Morris says.