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Sense of Community: Mercy Joplin One Year After the Storm

Kathy Cowley has worked at Mercy Joplin for 18 years.  The director of maternal services remembers well the night the tornado hit one year ago tomorrow…

"That night I tried to make it in.  I got as far as St. Paul's church.  It's just right down the road from what was St. John's then, and they had already set up a triage area there, so they asked me to stay there, and I unwillingly did.  I wanted  to go to the hospital and see about my mamas and babies and my nurses."

She worked in the mobile hospital that was set up one week after the tornado rendered the old Mercy Joplin facility unusable.  There was a small OB department in case someone needed prenatal care or thought they were going to deliver their baby right away.  But, if time allowed, moms to be were sent to other hospitals for care.

The latest Mercy Joplin, which opened next to the destroyed building April 15th, allows Mercy once again to deliver babies—labor and delivery, recovery and postpartum services have been restored.

Dottie Bringle, chief operating officer and chief nursing officer at Mercy Joplin, says before the latest facility opened, women would have babies at Mercy Carthage, Freeman or Mercy Springfield…

"We had the unique opportunity in that we have many Mercy facilities coming right down the I-44 corridor, so within 45 minutes to an hour there's three or four  Mercy facilities."

43 babies had been born as of late last week at Mercy Joplin since the component-built hospital opened in mid-April.  Bringle says the new facilities are big and spacious…

"I think the patients are very happy.  I know the staff is ecstatic  to be in there and to have all the  services back that they had before, so it's very very nice."

Cowley is proud of the new labor and delivery department, which will operate until the permanent Mercy Joplin opens at Main and I-44 in March 2015…

"We look like a hospital.  It's a beautiful room--it's nicer than a hospital in many ways.  It looks like a beautiful hotel room, and that's what we wanted.  We wanted back to that same style of care that we had done  before which is single room maternity care.  Everything happens in one room--labor, delivery, recover, postpartum and then mamas and babies stay together the way it was meant to be."

About 75% of Cowley’s OB employees are back now that Mercy Joplin has its obstetrics unit back up and running, and she couldn’t be more pleased…

"It's like coming home to your family, you know, that's what we are, and it's been great having us here together as we set this unit back up and get everything we needed and get the rooms set up the way wanted, and I think it meant the most to me when I walked in , oh, probably the day or two before we opened the unit, and I walked into our little lounge--it's tiny compared to what we had--and we had put lockers in there, just small lockers, and one of the girls had gone through and put tape on all the lockers and put all their names.  Then I knew we were gonna be OK."

Another service that’s being offered at Mercy Joplin that hadn’t been offered since before the storm is open heart surgeries. 

And the new facility has an EICU, which allows patients to be monitored by more sets of eyes…

"It's an electronic--basically a telemedicine-type situation in which every one of our patients in our critical care unit are taken care of by critical care here, but they also are being monitored by critical care nurses  in St. Louis at our St. Louis facility.  This thing is so precise  they can zone in and look at your pupil size, and it's slick."

Bringle says it feels good to once again be able to offer all of the services that were offered prior to the tornado…

"We haven't missed even one hour since the storm of providing care, but it feels good not to have to transfer  as many people to other facilities as we had been doing.  You know, it makes us feel better about serving our community that we get to keep them home."

Space is still limited, though—the old hospital offered 367 in-patient beds.  The current facility offers 110 beds.

But employees look forward to their new state-of-the-art hospital, which Mercy Joplin President and CEO Gary Pulsipher says is being built with patients in mind…

"It's combined clinic and hospital so many of the speciality physicians will be right in the same building, and, for example, if I go to see my cardiologist, he finds a problem, he's admitting me to a room just down the hall, so it's very combined it'll be beautiful."

The new hospital will be storm safe, too.  Pulsipher says they’re spending millions of dollars to make sure not only patients are safe but that the hospital can withstand extremely strong winds.  Electrical field will come from both sides of the campus so the hospital would be able to continue to function if a tornado were to strike one side.

The emergency room and central energy plant will be built into a hillside.

This story and others in KSMU’s Sense of Community Series can be found on our website ksmu.org.

For KSMU News, I’m Michele Skalicky.