The startling thing in first seeing the new Mercy Hospital Joplin — the factory built, trucked-in replacement for the building destroyed by last May’s tornado — is how attractive and permanent it looks. Joplin has a new hospital as of mid-April, and this one isn’t tents or trailers.
The new facility will offer patients all the comforts and most services they would expect from a Mercy hospital. With steel construction that is sturdier than the old St. John’s Regional Medical Center, the new Mercy building is a testament to modern technology and overtime workers coming together to build a complete hospital in eight months.
The new facility includes a full-scale emergency department. Surgeons can again conduct complex, open-heart procedures. Mercy doctors can deliver babies again. Patients can rest in rooms with monitoring features, communication capabilities and private bathrooms they’d expect in any hospital. The two-story in-patient wings can accommodate more than 100 patients if demand warrants. A cafeteria, gift shop, pharmacy and chapel complete the picture.
“It’s remarkable that we were able to get this topnotch facility up and running within eight months,” said Lynn Britton, president and CEO of Mercy. “Early in the recovery, we knew the community would need a true hospital while we build for the future. So we challenged the team to do it. We have our Sisters of Mercy to thank who came to Joplin in the late 1800s and showed us what a bias for action, determination and true grit can accomplish.”
Mercy has worked hard to turn this corner. Co-workers and contractors first opened a tent hospital a week after the disaster. They followed months later with a small hospital assembled from components, which look like trailers. The new Mercy Hospital not only houses employees and patients in a handsome and sturdy building, it also unveils some of the improvements coming to a rebuilt Joplin.
The state-of-the-art hospital, for one, has imaging technology that in many cases is newer and more powerful than what was used at St. John’s, such as a new CT scanner that captures images with twice the resolution. “Mercy co-workers are motivated by the progress they see,” said Drew Alexander, director of the emergency department.
The modular construction behind Mercy Hospital has changed dramatically since it began with trailers decades ago. The hospital’s construction began in a California factory, where workers at Walden Structures engineered and assembled large slices of the structure with the same steel, concrete and drywall used in site-built construction. Joplin workers at the same time prepared the property and laid the foundation, with the simultaneous work greatly reducing the build time.
The trick is hauling the huge modules across country. Trucks and a few trains carried the 224 modules, some 60 feet long by 14 feet wide and high, with drivers having to navigate some tight corners on routes that local Mercy planners helped find. Some units arrived more than 80-percent finished, leaving workers to bolt them together and weave across pipes and wires. Exterior and interior finishes transformed the modules into a hospital that’s indistinguishable from one conventionally built.
Tornado disaster or no, state and local codes remain stringent for hospital construction. Walden had to build a prototype and accommodate inspectors as it assembled the components. “We hired about 30 percent more workers and put in a lot of overtime to meet the schedule,” said Charlie Walden, founder and owner of Walden Structures.
“The resulting structure is actually 30 percent stronger than the requirements for Mercy’s old building, and the glass is rated to withstand winds of 200 mph,” said John Farnen, Mercy’s executive director of planning, design and construction. “This building exceeds code requirements.”
The modular technology also enabled construction to squeeze into the site, which is just across the road from the ruined St. John’s. Further south, Farnen is also overseeing construction of the next Mercy Hospital Joplin, whose conventional construction is emerging on a 100-acre campus across Interstate 44. The future building will house 600,000 square feet versus a quarter of that in the new Mercy Hospital opening this month, but hospital co-workers already sense a return to normalcy.
Employees have been scattered across, and even outside, the Joplin area as Mercy held to its pledge to keep all 2,200 co-workers on the payroll.
“I hear it all the time from co-workers, how we want to come back home, how we all miss each other,” said Marilyn Welling, director of medical surgical services at Mercy Hospital Joplin. “There is also a lot of pride — it was amazing that we all were willing to step out of our usual roles and keep Mercy going. And now we have a new hospital that will bring us back together.”