Natural Disaster

Editor's note: This article was originally published in ONS Connect in May 2012.

As reported to Contributing Editor Christine Bosley, BSN, RN, OCN®

When a severe tornado hit Joplin, MO, on the evening of May 22, 2011, the situation was serious. St. John’s Regional Medical Center in Joplin was hit so hard that it is still unusable. It needed to be evacuated, nearby Freeman hospital became quickly overwhelmed with patients, and the surrounding community prepared for action.

At our hospital, off-shift workers arrived to volunteer without even being called, and our emergency preparedness plan went into effect immediately. In total, 140 volunteers showed up to help, some with food to feed the extra hands. In Joplin, it was dark and debris was everywhere; one volunteer was driving on a flat tire to transport patients to the hospital. At St. John’s, glass had been blown out of the windows, rain had poured in, pipes had ruptured, water was everywhere, and wires were down. In the days following the tornado, salvage teams were able to recover some of the charts and computers, but many records were lost forever

Many patients with cancer came to nearby Via Christi Hospital to continue their radiation treatment. I got calls from patients who said they were due for treatment, but often they did not know what they were getting or how they should proceed. After the devastation, St. John’s worked quickly to get computers operating and a working telephone number up to call for patient information. Some of the casts used for radiation therapy were retrieved, and charts with dried, crinkled pages were salvageable in some cases. St. John’s staff also came in to help. All patients needing treatment were accommodated into our schedule, and although we didn’t depend on patients to know their treatments, it helped if they remembered.

My advice to all patients, based on this, is to keep an ongoing journal of their treatment so that they have a record in case of emergencies.