It's been nearly two years since a tornado packing 200-mph winds leveled entire sections of Joplin, Mo., leaving 161 deaths in its wake. For a time, all eyes were on Joplin. Then, as it is wont to do, the media moved on, leaving Joplin to pick up the pieces.
That is has done, and with an efficiency that belies the emotional toll these events exact. Houses have been rebuilt and retailers have reopened. New schools are under construction. And a new hospital is being built to replace St. John's Mercy Hospital, entire sections of which were reduced to rubble.
Like other structures rising in Joplin, the hospital will reflect the latest thinking in tornado-resistant design. Or rethinking, since EF5 tornadoes were once unthinkable in places like Joplin.
As a result of the May 2011 event, five patients lost their lives at St. John's Regional Medical Center. Rather than flying debris or failed structural members, the culprit was a loss of electricity. A failed generator. Which begged the question, was St. John's prepared?
Its builders say there's no question the new facility, undertaken by Chesterfield, Mo.-based Mercy, the the sixth-largest Catholic health care system in the nation, will outperform its predecessor, should it come to that.
The facility's two generators will be housed in a reinforced bunker. Glazing will equal that of auto safety glass. Two of Mercy's nine floors will be located below grade, where 14 operating rooms will be shielded by concrete walls. Above-grade “safe zones” will be sealed by heavy metal doors.
Windows and frames for Mercy's emergency center will be impact tested to ensure they can withstand hurricane-level winds. Elsewhere, a 12-ft-by-12-ft below-grade tunnel will route power lines from utility plant to hospital.
The lessons of Joplin were hard won, and Mercy put many of them to use for the construction of a 150,000-square-foot interim facility made of prefabricated 14-by-60-foot, 40,000-pound sections shipped by rail and truck to the site. With as many 500 workers on the site at a time, construction was completed in just eight months, in April. It's the first modular acute care health care facility in the nation.
There was never a thought to close down and walk away,” said St. John's Mercy president Gary Pulsipher.
You can read more about St. John's Mercy Hospital, and its owner, Mercy, in the April 1 edition of ENR Midwest.