Deadly Joplin Tornado Sheds Light On Hospital Emergency Plans

Monday, May 23rd 2011, 9:12 pm
By: News On 6

Emory Bryan, News On 6

TULSA, Oklahoma -- Hospitals plan what to do if their patients are in danger because of a storm.

St John's Regional Medical Center in Joplin was left in ruins by the tornado that swept by the hospital. How they handled the emergency is likely to be carefully studied to see if anything could be done better.

5/23/2011 Related Story: A Third Of Joplin Gone After Tornado Ravages City

One of the first lessons from the Joplin tornado is that in a hospital, flying glass can be the greatest threat. That's why at St John in Tulsa the first thing they do is get patients away from those windows in their rooms.

It's up to Hospital "house managers" like Pete Honeywell to make the call during a storm on when to evacuate patient rooms.

"Grab the bed, unplug it and push it out in the hall, down there and line the patients up in the hall there." Honeywell said.

Almost every patient room has a window, and with 500 patients at a time, it's a huge job to move them the few hallways that have no windows. Those heavy hospital doors are closed to seal off the hallway from the windows.

An evacuation for a tornado is called a "code black."

"I would hope we would be able to do it in 20 minutes," Honeywell said. "And I'm sure that people are watching the weather on the floors too and when we called a code black they'd start moving in fast motion."

It's impossible to move everyone from all 14 floors to the basement, so they move everyone as far inside as possible. Only the most critical patients on ventilators are left in their rooms.

It's been eight years since the last "code black" was ordered at St John in Tulsa but evacuation drills are done twice a year to they'll be ready.

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