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Hospital near Joplin adds extra labor rooms

Sunday, May 29, 2011 | 6:07 p.m. CDT

KANSAS CITY — A hospital near tornado-ravaged Joplin has nearly doubled its labor and delivery capacity to handle an influx of patients since Sunday.

The 35-bed McCune-Brooks Regional Hospital in Carthage treated about 30 pregnant patients that had no previous ties to the facility from Sunday through Thursday. During that same span it delivered four babies, two from Joplin.

The massive storm tore through Joplin a week ago leaving at least 139 dead and hundreds more injured. Scores more are unaccounted for.

One of the Joplin women to deliver at McCune-Brooks was rushed there after her blood pressure soared while watching news coverage of the storm. Another, who was 34 weeks pregnant, hitched a ride there from a stranger after a beam fell on her in a Walmart that was flattened. She was checked out and sent home, said birthing unit nurse manager Sandi Godfrey.

Other visits have been prompted because some medical offices have been destroyed and patients nearing their due dates have had trouble contacting their doctors.

"We're trying to give them peace of mind, comfort and direct them to their physician," Godfrey said. "By the time they leave they feel better and have a plan in place."

Many of the pregnant patients normally would have been treated at the larger, 367-bed St. John's Regional Medical Center, but it was evacuated after being slammed by the deadly twister.

With St. John's out of commission, GE Healthcare is loaning all the necessary workstations and fetal monitoring equipment to outfit three additional rooms at McCune-Brooks for at least three months.

Within a day of learning of the need, one employee drove more than three hours to Carthage to run all the wiring needed to set up the rooms, and another employee had calibrated the system from her Dallas home even as tornado sirens blared there.

"What you will find from a natural disaster like that is some people go into premature labor or go into labor if they are at term," said Tamara Grassle of GE Healthcare. "You will find just from the trauma of it you do get an influx of patients."

McCune-Brooks, which is located only about 15 miles away from Joplin, had just four rooms previously for labor, delivery and recovery.

"We were panicking a little bit because we had all these ladies and we didn't have monitored rooms for them and we didn't know what the outcome would be, so they came down and literally overnight got that put in for us," said McCune-Brooks spokeswoman Pam Barlet.

Barlet said the hospital has spoken to staff from St. John's about how many babies they were expecting to deliver in the coming weeks and is "beefing up for even more patients." It also will house some of the disabled hospital's doctors and outfit an existing but unused surgery suite to accommodate more patients.

The surviving Joplin hospital, Freeman, also is seeing an increase of pregnant patients coming in and checking to see if their babies are OK. But that hospital hasn't experienced a surge in preterm births, said spokeswoman Haley Reardon.

"That is good," Reardon said.


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