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Mercy Readies Tornado-Tough $450M Joplin Hospital

John Commins, for HealthLeaders Media, May 1, 2013

"We arrived a day after the storm and it took us three or four weeks just to assess the damage, make sure the facility was safe to go into, and document all of the issues that the facility had," says John Farnen, who is overseeing the new hospital construction as Mercy's executive director of strategic projects.

"We lost all the power. No utilities. No emergency generator power. We lost the roof and exposed the outside. It was catastrophic damage. They got maybe a 10-minute warning and it was [in] a matter of seconds that it blew past."

Mercy Hospital Joplin is being built with an eye toward those lessons learned at St. John's and includes $11 million in upgrades to "harden" the new hospital against natural disasters, all of which will add about 2% to the total construction cost.

The centerpiece of the storm hardening will be the windows, most of which were knocked out at St. John's and which sent glass shards and 200 mph winds inside the building, blowing out walls, doors and ceilings. The only windows to survive the 2011 tornado were those with a reinforced laminate in the hospital's behavioral health unit, which limited damage and injury inside that unit.

With that lesson learned, Mercy is working with contractors to invent windows and frames with unprecedented strength. "The new window technology actually doesn't exist. We are doing testing right now to get it to pass and achieve our goals, but most of the hardening is just [applying] the good engineering practices in today's world," Farnen says.

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