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St. John's in Joplin to Open Temporary 60-Bed Hospital

The owners of the Joplin hospital that was destroyed in Sunday’s tornado say they will have a temporary, 60-bed hospital set up in a vacant parking lot by Sunday. Five patients and one visitor died there Sunday. St. John’s Regional Medical Center, which operates under the St. Louis-based Sisters of Mercy Health System, says the patients who were evacuated are in numerous hospitals throughout the region. In the meantime, it continues to see regular patients from a makeshift hospital in a downtown auditorium. KSMU’s Jennifer Moore has this report from Joplin.

Reporter standup: “Right now, I’m standing outside Memorial Hall. This is the makeshift hospital that St. John’s is operating…we have people coming in to be treated for everything from a runny nose a heart attack. And they say they’re equipped even for women who are going into labor. Just down the street from me at a church, I can see a funeral in procession. There are two hearses lined up. It’s just a scene here in central Joplin, where the tornado didn’t do much damage, of recovery still, and people just healing.”

“I’m not afraid of anything walking in the door that we couldn’t handle. We won’t be able to treat them long term…but we can definitely do the best we can to stabilize them and move them,” said Drew Alexander, head of the hospitals’ emergency and trauma department. He says right now, the auditorium is filled with patients and equipment.

“Some of it’s from other hospitals. Some of it’s from Mercy. They have a huge warehouse infrastructure. And competitor hospitals are offering things, supplies,” he said.

He said they’re also using equipment snatched by fleeing staff members as they evacuated the hospital Sunday.

It’s a given that local residents will be displaced during a natural disaster. But in this case, the hospital was destroyed, meaning doctors, nurses and other medical staff members are displaced, too.

Mercy is putting its displaced staff members to work in any open exam rooms at its other clinics in the area. And its CEO, Lynn Britton, said it is committed to keeping its approximately 2,000 employees.

Mercy has set up a command center at the Holiday Inn Convention Center in Joplin for its employees to get counseling and instructions.

The new, temporary 60-bed hospital that is scheduled to open Sunday in the tornado-ravaged area will be able to withstand 100 miles per hour winds, hospital administrators said. According to the National Weather Service, the tornado that tore through Joplin Sunday had winds in excess of 200 miles per hour.

For KSMU News, I’m Jennifer Moore.[Sound of scene outside Memorial hall fades out]