Dr. Womble said hospital staff at Moore Medical had still more amazing stories of death-defiance. They told him 30 people refused to leave the chapel. Somehow, the chapel remained intact, even though the hospital all around it was destroyed. Whitaker confirmed this.
One woman in active labor was kept in a second-floor operating room—which the medical staff thought was the best place for her, all things considered. Nurses covered the woman with pillows, blankets, and their own bodies as the tornado barreled through the town. She survived and gave birth to a boy several hours later. The parents gave him the middle name Emmanuel, which means “God is with us.”
As the tornado approached, an elderly volunteer had gone outside to get something from a van he used to transport elderly patients to and from a physical therapy program. “Nobody inside knew he had gone outside,” Dr. Womble said. By the time he tried to get back in, the power had gone out, and the doors wouldn’t open. He huddled behind a concrete pillar and ended up with just one minor laceration.
Patients eventually were taken to another hospital, Norman’s HealthPlex, about five miles south. Both Dr. Womble and Dr. Raju have begun working full time at the HealthPlex.
Dr. Raju said that he avoided being at Moore Medical during the tornado only by a turn of luck. He normally rounds at Moore in the afternoon and at the HealthPlex in the morning. But on that day, there were three new admissions at Moore, and only one at HealthPlex. So he went to Moore first, and was gone by the time the tornado hit.
“So lucky,” he said.
“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. 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.”
–David Whitaker, CEO of Norman Regional Health System
It remains to be seen what kind of medical facility will be built to replace Moore Medical Center.
“Nobody knows what will happen next, but a lot of us speculate that they will not rebuild an inpatient facility,” said Dr. Womble, who had worked at Moore Medical Center for four years.
Whitaker said the first priority was to re-establish the clinics located at Moore Medical, and that has been done. The next step is, possibly, a temporary building in Moore for urgent care. The long-term plan remains in the discussion phase.
“We’ve already started having some meetings,” Whitaker said. “We’re going to determine what type of facility, what service levels it will be offering as we go back.”
It’s hard knowing that his hospital is no longer there, Dr. Raju said.
“We are going to miss it,” he said. “It’s unimaginable.”
Dr. Womble said those first few hours, when he wasn’t sure of where he’d be working, were difficult. He struggles to describe the feeling of not being able to provide care at his hospital at the time it’s most needed.
“It’s really hard to put it into words,” he said. “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. I definitely feel a tie to the community.
“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 to another city for care.”