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Tending to Hospital Employees After the Joplin Tornado

John Commins, for HealthLeaders Media, October 10, 2011

On Sunday, May 22, a category EF5 tornado ripped like a buzz saw through Joplin, MO. Within minutes, at least 142 people were killed, hundreds were injured, and much of the town was destroyed, including the 367-bed St. John’s Mercy Regional Medical Center.

And just as quickly, the 2,200 employees at the gutted hospital faced the prospect of losing their jobs. That’s when Mercy Health System CEO Lynn Britton made the decision that may come to define his leadership at the system, which operates 30 hospitals in four states. Britton launched a talent-sharing program designed to keep as many Mercy workers as possible employed through the rebuilding effort.

Britton spoke with HealthLeaders Media recently about the decision, and the nearly $1 billion commitment that Mercy has made towards rebuilding Joplin’s healthcare infrastructure.

HLM: The decision to keep staff on the payroll was made just hours after the tornado struck. Why was that a priority?

Britton: “For a variety of reasons. With Hurricane Katrina, a lot of healthcare professionals who didn’t have a place to work tended to leave New Orleans to find work, and once the healthcare organizations were thinking through how to get back on their feet, there wasn’t a professional medical community to support them. So I absolutely didn’t want that to happen in Southwest Missouri. We felt it was critical that we kept everybody employed – but not just sitting on a sofa collecting a paycheck. They needed to be using their clinical skills and keeping them sharp to make sure the medical community was going to be there when the new hospital opened.”

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