On April 27, a rare E-F5 tornado raged through rural Alabama, killing dozens of people and leveling towns in minutes. Houses and schools and churches were reduced to matchsticks; trees were uprooted; cars were blown away like deadly toys. The devastation was unthinkable.
But in the darkness, a bright spot shone.
In two National Guard tents pitched amid the rubble in Hackleburg, a town that the Red Cross declared about 75% destroyed, Keith Morrow, D.O., and his staff continued to provide healthcare to the shell-shocked survivors.
Despite losing his two medical offices, one in Hackleburg and the other in a nearby town called Phil Campbell, the family practitioner felt he had a responsibility to help care for the community where he's been practicing medicine for 25 years.
"When you're the only healthcare provider in town and so many people were left with nothing," he says, his voice trailing off. "Both towns lost their only clinic and their only pharmacy."
Now, Morrow is being honored as 2011 Country Doctor of the Year by Staff Care, a temporary physician staffing firm. The award recognizes America's outstanding rural medical practitioners. Morrow was also named a "Hospital Hero" by Russellville Hospital for his post-storm work. He will be honored by the Alabama Hospital Association in February.
Just days after the tornado destroyed his clinics, Morrow began providing free care in National Guard tents and a donated camper. Pharmaceutical reps donated medicine and other supplies.
"The first week or two we were just here trying to help," he tells HealthLeaders. "We didn't have anything to even make charts out of, so we weren't exactly trying to get a chart where you could bill."
Alexandra Wilson Pecci is an editor for HealthLeaders.