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The premier resource for hospital professionals from Relias Media, the trusted source for healthcare information and continuing education.

Joplin’s New Hospital Is a Safe Haven, with Emphasis on the 'Safe'

Years ago a hurricane caused a tree to hit my house in the middle of the night. The damage was extensive. When I rebuilt, I improved the deck with built-in seating, and I got rid of the ugly green overhang. I repainted one of the rooms a color I had always wanted. I updated the damaged appliances.

That idea of taking what was damaged or destroyed and making it better is evident in Joplin, MO, where St. John’s Regional Medical Center was devastated by a 2011 tornado. The new $465 million facility, now named Mercy Hospital Joplin, opens Sunday – on time and under budget. The focus has been on making the facility as safe as possible.

“The new building is opening just 46 months after the tornado hit Joplin, which is approximately half the time you would normally anticipate to plan, design, and construct a similarly sized hospital,” said Ryan Felton, project director for McCarthy Building Companies.\

Here are a few of the changes:

• A window and frame system that can withstand winds of up to 250 miles per hour. Gary Pulsipher, president of Mercy Hospital Joplin, said, “Having windows that can withstand a storm is a huge deal. Winds like the ones we experienced in the May 2011 tornado caused major damage and once inside the building, they tore things apart and sent debris flying.”

Public areas, where visitors can move to safer areas, have windows with a rating for 110 mph winds. Mercy added a film of plastic laminate to prevent the glass from shattering. The hospital's new ED rooms, and the hallways connecting the hospital and clinic tower, have laminated glass that can withstand winds of 140 mph. Both intensive care units have the strongest glass. In a warehouse, workers tested the glass by shooting it with 15-pound wooden 2x4 “missiles” at 100 mph, which is how fast debris typically flies in a 250-mph tornado.

• Reinforced refuges. Each floor has a “safe zone,” a hallway that is designed like an earthquake zone with reinforced walls and ceilings. Heavy storm barrier doors can be closed, and the doors have rods that penetrate into the cement above. All passenger elevators reach the basement, which is equipped with wide corridors for patients and staff.

• Protected power. In the 2011 tornado, even the emergency generators were disabled. Now a utilities building is buried across the campus, and critical utilities come into the hospital through a reinforced tunnel. Diesel tanks also are buried. There are two lines each of power, water, and data communications that come into the hospital from different directions. Battery-operated lights are installed in hallways and stairwells that start up automatically when needed. Battery backup has been included in critical life-support systems, such as ventilators. Some operate as long as two hours.

• Emergency grab bags. Critical supplies are accessible and transportable including flashlights, batteries, first aid kits, gloves, crowbars, and snow shovels, which can be used to clear hallways and stairs blocked with rain-soaked debris.

• Hardened shell. The new hospital includes a precast concrete exterior and a poured concrete roof.

“Mercy applied unheard of standards to areas of the hospital where people can’t quickly escape, protecting even our frailest patients who depend on life-sustaining equipment,” Pulsipher said. “It’s part of understanding the unique role of a hospital – what it is, what it does, and who it serves.”

The hospital has been improved in other ways as well: all private rooms, a pediatric wing, and a NICU. ORs are placed next to the ED, and physicians have offices near their hospitalized patients. It’s the 2.0 version of Joplin healthcare, and it’s a place where patients and their loved ones can feel safe and secure. What could be more important in the healing process?