When the tornado hit Joplin, Missouri, one of the first impressions many of us had was the image in the sunrise of the battered structure of St. John's Regional Medical Center. As a hospital chaplain, the image of the hospital, its windows shattered and dark, was immediately arresting. I had no idea what folks there had experienced, but I had some idea what it might have meant in my hospital.
Today, we had an opportunity to learn about what happened there. This story was broadcast on KCUR, our local NPR station, and later picked up by other stations. It gives a sense, however limited, of what employees experienced during the tornado.
We need to appreciate what the staff of St. John's Regional Medical Center accomplished. In the entire hospital, that took a direct hit from an EF-5 tornado, only six persons died - five patients who were already at high risk, and one visitor. There were certainly many injuries, but this was still a major accomplishment. It speaks to the dedication of the staff, and of the quality of the hospital's plan for disasters, and of the training that staff maintained to be prepared.
All of us in hospitals train for disasters. No, perhaps no training could be "adequate" for an event of this magnitude; but we can only imagine how much more serious the outcome could have been without it. About two hours north of Joplin, and a few days later, we also had a tornado warning and implemented our plan. Blessedly, as the storm crossed the metropolitan area, there was little damage, few injuries, and no deaths. My hospital was unaffected. Nonetheless, we followed our plan, moving each person, inpatients, outpatients, families, vendors, and staff to the safest area possible; and we waited together until all was clear. We were not challenged as they were in Joplin, and still we were comforted that we had trained for this event and had some idea what to do.
The story of Joplin speaks of acts of determination and courage among the hospital staff. In one sense, I applaud their heroism. In another, I want to recognize that they were simply ordinary people, performing well under extraordinary circumstances. I have faith that the folks I work with would do as well. It's not because they're somehow unusual. It is, rather, that I know them and trust that they would also come through.
I want to thank God for the people of St. John's Regional Medical Center, who came through in the face of unimaginable natural forces. And I would pray that neither they (nor, for that matter, any of the rest of us) are ever challenged that way again.