“It’s really hard to put it into words. It’s the only hospital in that city, and it’s just me and my partner to take care of virtually everyone that comes in with any kind of medical problem. … It’s devastating. What is the rest of the city going to do for their hospital care? They essentially will not have a hospital in their city. They’ll have to drive toanother city for care.”
–Joe R. Womble, MD
The first bit of feedback was fantastic: Everyone who had been inside the hospital—roughly 200 to 300 people, including 30 patients—had survived.
“Everyone was fine,” he said. “All the patients and staff, no one got injured. I was thinking that either the hospital was missed by the storm or that it must not have really damaged it very significantly.”
Unfortunately, the hospital was not OK. He watched as local TV painted a very different picture.
“They started showing aerial shots and I was just shocked. My jaw was just dropped,” Dr. Womble said. “The main entrance that I go in every day was literally stacked with three or four cars deep. A huge stack of about 30 cars was piled up on the main entrance, essentially.”
It was as though they were “toy cars.”
The May 20 tornado, a two-mile-wide superstorm boasting 200-mph winds that struck just south of Oklahoma City, claimed 24 lives and left the regional health system with a void in its network. It also left hospitalists mourning the loss of the place they called a second home several times a week. About a week after the storm, officials announced that Moore Medical Center would have to be demolished.
Despite the terrible events, hospitalists and hospital officials were astounded by the good fortune of the hospital’s inhabitants. Dr. Womble said about 100 people from nearby neighborhoods and businesses used the hospital as shelter.
Senthil Raju, MD, a hospitalist who had done rounds at Moore Medical earlier that day, said the protocol was to take shelter in the hallways. But at some point, probably only minutes before the storm hit, the chief nurse and the house supervisor made the decision to move all the patients to the ground floor because they were in “reasonably stable condition,” according to Dr. Womble, who relayed accounts by staffers who were there. Most of the people in the hospital rode out the storm in the first-floor cafeteria.
After the storm, patient rooms on the second floor were either no longer there or had been reduced to their steel innards.
The decision to move everyone undoubtedly saved lives. “If any of our patients stayed there, they’re probably all dead,” Dr. Raju said.
David Whitaker, CEO of Norman Regional Health System, which includes Moore Medical, marveled at the outcome.
“We had some bumps and bruises, some scratches, but no major lacerations, no broken bones, no injuries that people couldn’t ambulate. It’s totally amazing,” he said. “The leadership that was in place, the employees that were working at that time, they sprang into action, they took command and control of the situation. They got people into the proper areas.”