5:22pm

Mon May 23, 2011
Shots - Health Blog

After Tornado, Hospital Patients Transferred From Missouri Town

Tornadoes often appear almost out of nowhere.

Even a few minutes' warning don't help much when a tornado as ferocious as the one that roared through Joplin, Missouri, late Sunday afternoon, strikes. At least 116 people were killed, according to a count released late Monday.

Among those with scant time to prepare for the twister were the hospital workers and patients at St. John's Regional Medical Center. Minutes before the tornado struck the hospital, the facility declared a "Condition Gray," MSNBC reported, and everyone inside was told to move into stairwells and other protected interior spaces.

When the tornado finally tore through downtown it severely damaged St. John's as well as adjacent offices, but only knocked out power at the other big medical facility in town, Freeman Hospital.

St. John's evacuated its 183 patients Sunday night and triaged them at Freeman. They've since relocated to other hospitals around the region, according to hospital officials.

St. John's is part of the Sisters of Mercy Health System, a hospital chain with branches in Arkansas, Oklahoma, Kansas and Missouri. Many patients were sent to a Mercy hospital in nearby Springfield, while some children went to a children's hospital in Kansas City, Mary Becker, senior vice president of the Missouri Hospital Association, told Shots.

A physician at St John's told the Associated Press that at least four people were killed at the hospital during the tornado, though he didn't know if they were staff or patients. Cora Scott, a spokeswoman for Mercy Health System told Shots, however, the health group was "still assessing and trying to track down where all the patients are."

The state has not released the number of injured, but so far, CoxHealth, a Springfield-based hospital organization, said Monday afternoon it had treated 100 tornado victims since Sunday.

Scott said the events of the last 24 hours have been "extraordinary" and "chaotic." But she noted the extensive outpouring of support and services from hospitals throughout the region — whether offering to take in patients or donating supplies.

Tornadoes have demolished hospitals before. In 2001, a tornado hit a central Kansas town and ripped the roof off a hospital just after it had been evacuated. And in 2007, one smashed up a hospital in Americus, Georgia.

In Joplin, Mercy said it's hearing reports that medical records are being found around the community after scattering in the winds.

So far, the state is handling the immediate emergency medical response. But Missouri can call on federal public health or medical resources through the Department of Health and Human Services if they need them, says Elleen Kane with the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response. Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.