May 23, 2011— -- The Joplin, Missouri tornado caused such severe damage to St. John's Regional Medical Center that all patients had to be evacuated and sent to other hospitals in the region. Hospital officials say 183 patients were evacuated. At least 5 others died. An unidentified visitor was also killed.
The winds were so powerful that items from the hospital, like medications and medical records, were found in neighboring counties.
Cora Scott, a spokeswoman for the hospital, said officials decided the hospital was unsafe after the tornado barreled through. Many of the patients, she said, were taken to St. John's Hospital in Springfield, Mo., about 75 miles away. Both hospitals are part of a multi-state health system.
Many of those injured in Joplin were taken to a field hospital set up in the city's Memorial Hall.
Medical personnel had to decide on the best places to send hospital patients after the tornado hit. They were in the hospital for all sorts of different conditions before the storm struck.
"We had to determine the best course of action for everyone," Scott said. "We had to get them to facilities that could handle different medical conditions."
Hospital staff loaded patients on pickup trucks and did whatever they could to get them to safety. In just 90 minutes, the hospital was evacuated.
Right now, many of those same hospital personnel are reporting to the field hospital for work, Scott said.
"We can redeploy them where they are needed, and we are deploying additional staff as well, including hospital-owned ambulances," said Scott.
Scott also said there are plenty of medical supplies on hand in Springfield, and the entire health system is working together to make sure all the hospitals get what they need quickly.
Sheila Harrington was in the hospital when the storm hit.
"There was no light. We had very little flashlights," she said. "[People] were screaming and looking for loved ones."
Rod Pace was hanging on to a door in another part of the hospital, trying to keep it closed.
"It felt like that building was breathing," he said. "We just moved in and out with the door."
Pace said it was a tragedy to lose the hospital.
"This structure's been here a long, time," he said. "It's meant a lot to this community."