WIUM Tristates Public Radio

Joplin Tornado Tested Hospital's Staff

Feb 13, 2012

The tornado that struck Joplin, Missouri last year killed 161 people, injured nearly one-thousand and destroyed a quarter of the city.

A nurse who helped care for the injured says frequent drills and revisions to response plans saved lives.

Marilyn Welling works at St. John's Hospital. She said the city was preparing for a disaster drill when the tornado struck in May.

She said, “If you do drill and you have your command center, you have a plan in place that tries to be as comprehensive as possible, you can prepare. It will make a difference.”

Welling said the loss of electricity meant the hospital staff had to drive to different sites where the injured were treated to coordinate the effort.

Welling said dedication is also important. She recalled one particular nurse who stayed on duty even after looking out a hospital window and seeing the tornado destroy her home. She had left her invalid husband there when she went to work. Later, she found her husband, alive, in the rubble of their home.

St. John's Hospital was heavily damaged. Doctors and nurses worked in undamaged buildings until the Army supplied a tent hospital a week after the disaster. Welling said it was humbling to perform in primitive conditions.

Welling also said one lesson she learned is that the public must be better informed about preparations they can make.

She said, “I wished our community was better prepared. That they knew that they had to have water on hand. That they had to have their medicines on hand and that type of stuff. And that would have helped a lot.”

Simple steps, like having a supply and a list of prescription medications on hand, can save time when doctors and nurses are hard-pressed. .

Welling spoke at a recent seminar on disaster preparedness for health care professionals in Macomb