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New Mercy Joplin Slated to Open March 2015

MO Chamber

In this segment of KSMU Sense of Community Series, Michele Skalicky takes a tour of the new Mercy Joplin still under construction.

Just south of I-44 on the western side of Joplin a new building is under construction.  It’s being built with safety in mind—since it replaces a building that was rendered unusable by an EF5 tornado that struck the city on May 22, 2011.  The new Mercy Joplin is slated to be opened in March 2015.  The hospital has been operating out of a smaller facility ever since the tornado hit the old St. John’s Regional Medical Center head on.  But employees are anxiously awaiting the move into the bigger and better building.

A recent tour of the new hospital provided a look at just what the new facility will offer.

The 900,000-square-foot, $465-million-dollar building will feature the latest technology and is being built with patients in mind.  For example, John Farnen, Mercy’s executive director for strategic projects, says patients in the new Intensive Care Unit will be remotely monitored through Mercy’s eICU program.  Physicians in St. Louis will assist physicians in Joplin.

"That'll be able to see their monitor in St. Louis, talk to the patient and visually see them in St. Louis so it's really kind of like virtual care," he said.

The emergency department and operating rooms will be located next to radiology.  Green lighting in the operating rooms will allow surgeons to see details more clearly in the monitors.  And brand new lab automation will reduce risk of error.

Wide, open stairwells will encourage people to take the stairs rather than the elevators.  But there will be some old in with the new—the chapel will contain the stone Stations of the Cross, which were salvaged from the chapel in the ruined hospital.  There’s room to grow, too—the hospital will contain 200 private beds with space for 60 more in the future.

And, just as importantly, the new hospital will contain some important safety features that will insure the hospital continues to operate if another EF5 tornado hits again.

A brick building to the south of the hospital is a utility plant.  The old facility had exposed units on the roof and generators and fuel tanks were located outside above ground.  As we drove around the new building, Farnen said the new hospital’s energy services will be much more secure.

"This will actually be a hardened concrete structure, all the utilities are inside it, and we kind of recessed it into the hillside here to try to protect it as much as possible," he said.

A 50,000-gallon fuel tank is buried underground allowing the hospital to operate for 96 hours under its own power if it had to.    Farnen says the entire hospital was built with protection from strong winds in mind.

"The exterior skin is really a concrete reinforced panel with brick laid in it, so the whole exterior is kind of conrete panels and then basically the roofs are all concrete and then the floors are all concrete, so when you're in the building you're surrounded by concrete above you, below you and all four sides of you," he said.

Areas of the hospital such as the neonatal intensive care unit and the ICU where patient evacuation would be more difficult will have windows that can withstand winds up to 250 miles per hour.  Other areas will have 140-mile-per-hour windows. 

"They'll put them windows in a pressure chamber and 8,000 cycles they'll send them through.  After they hit it, it will kind of crack, the glass will, but it won't break and they'll put it in a pressure chamber, simulate the inside and outside pressures during a tornado, and that glass flexes back and forth up to three inches but does not pop out of its frame, so we feel pretty confident that the exterior of the building should be in pretty good shape should we have, you know, storms or future weather events," he said.

Mechanical equipment, which was exposed at the old hospital, is contained in hurricane penthouses on the roof.  Stairwells are being reinforced since drywall fell into the stairwells in the old building when the tornado hit.  Life support systems will have battery backup systems, and battery back-up lighting has been installed in the stairwells and in evacuation zones.  Farnen says there are a lot of redundant utilities.

"We have a power feed from the south and one from the north, so if we have an event north or south of us, we've still got all the normal power we need to run the whole facility.  If for whatever reason we get north and south and we lose both power feeds coming to the campus, we have enough generator capacity to run the whole facility on our own generator power and actually have enough fuel to run for 96 hours before we would need anymore fuel or any assistance," he said.

Emergency grab bags will be placed in strategic locations on each floor.  Emergency supplies at the old building were located in the basement, and when the electricity went out and elevators weren’t available, the supplies weren’t easily accessible.

According to Farnen, Mercy hopes to get temporary occupancy for the new building so Mercy staff can move in to begin training and get familiar with the hospital. 

Farnen says the biggest challenge with the project has been doing both design and construction at the same time since the hospital needed to be rebuilt as quickly as possible.

"One of the examples are, we were digging, we blasted the site.  We were getting ready to start foundations, and the mechanical designer came up and said, 'hey, wait a minute.  We just finished the mechanical room design in the basement, it needs to be four feet deeper,' so we had to go back, blast and dig four more feet, so it's kind of just-in-time design, if you will," he said.

And he says it’s been a challenge to keep enough workers on the job since so much construction has been taking place at once.

A big grand opening is being planned for next year around March 15th, and Mercy hopes to move in patients on March 22.