An EF5 tornado—the strongest rating possible—ravaged Joplin, Mo., on May 22, 2011, flattening countless businesses and homes and damaging St. John's Regional Medical Center to the point that it could no longer operate.
Chesterfield, Mo.-based Mercy health system, the hospital's parent system, now has built a $335 million, storm-resistant advanced facility, renamed Mercy Joplin, to take the former hospital's place. The 875,000-square-foot facility is scheduled to open in late March.
Photos of the previous facility's damage show shattered windows and a hospital without power. The new facility is designed to withstand at least an EF3 tornado, thanks in part to laminated glass throughout the building and exterior glass designed to withstand winds of at least 140 mph, according to Ryan Felton, the project's director from McCarthy Building Cos., which built the hospital.
In the intensive-care unit, emergency department and other areas where patients are less able to be moved, exterior windows are rated to withstand winds of 250 mph, which is within the EF5 classification.
“I believe it's one of the strongest facilities that we've built,” Felton said.
During the 2011 storm, an air handling unit located on the roof of St. John's Regional Medical Center was lifted by the tornado and landed on a component of the hospital's generator system, damaging the system and leaving the hospital without emergency power. In the new hospital, all mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems have been moved to a central engineering plant about 400 feet east and halfway below ground, to limit exposure to the elements.
The hospital will be able to operate for 96 hours if it loses power, thanks to a new generator system. All utilities are located 25 feet underground to protect them from inclement weather, and the hospital will have two different feeds for electricity and two options for water.
An improved roofing system was crucial in the new facility, because gravel that topped the prior roof became projectiles that damaged the hospital, Felton said. The new roof was built with lightweight concrete instead of the prior ballasted system.
Staff had evacuated 183 patients from St. John's to hospitals throughout the region after the storm hit. Upgraded communications equipment and a basement “war room” will allow for improved coordination during future severe weather events.
Without clear-cut standards for “tornado-proofing” buildings, Felton said designers had to use a wide array of standards to construct the building, including guidelines from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the International Code Council, as well as hurricane protection standards from Miami-Dade County, Fla.
Mercy Joplin, expected to open March 22, will have 200 beds, though the building is built for 260, according to John Farnen, Mercy's executive director for strategic projects. The building will include $50 million of new medical and IT equipment, he said.
“It's almost a little overwhelming to believe in less than four years, with all the stuff we've been through, that we're going to have a brand-new facility to move into,” Farnen said.
Follow Adam Rubenfire on Twitter: @arubenfire