The tornado that struck Joplin, Mo., May 22 tore the roof and part of the facade off St. John's Regional Medical Center and shattered all the windows. Five patients died during the tornado, though their causes of death were undetermined as of press time. Nearly every patient in the hospital, part of Mercy Health System, reportedly was cut by glass when the tornado touched down and 183 patients were evacuated to nearby Freeman Health System and to other Mercy Health System hospitals in Missouri and Arkansas. As of press time, no hospital employees were known to have died in the tornado, though four were still unaccounted for.
The tornado is believed to be the deadliest in the United States in 60 years, with at least 125 deaths confirmed as of press time. Workers who had been inside the hospital told The New York Times the tornado hit the building directly and then appeared to stall for a minute or so.
Mercy Health System President Lynn Britton said evacuation efforts were handled by incident command centers in Joplin and Springfield. The system sent structural engineers to assess the damage.
By May 25, hospital staff were operating out of a makeshift command center at a nearby hotel. At a press conference that day, hospital officials noted one stroke of good luck: the hospital switched to electronic records three weeks ago, securing critical patient data. Sean Smith, M.D., president of Mercy's physician clinic in Joplin, said clinicians were moving from triage to day-to-day patient care.
"At first, we were treating trauma victims from the tornado. Now we're seeing patients with chronic medical conditions," Smith said.