Destroyed hospital in Joplin makes tentative rebuilding plans

Tuesday, June 7, 2011 | 11:19 a.m. CDT
Damaged vehicles litter the parking lot of St. John's Hospital in Joplin after a tornado hit the southwest Missouri city on May 22. A massive tornado blasted its way across southwestern Missouri, flattening several blocks of homes and businesses in Joplin and leaving residents frantically scrambling through the wreckage.

JOPLIN — The Joplin hospital destroyed by the May 22 tornado has set an ambitious goal of having a site and plan for a new hospital ready for review by its board of directors in December.

That's the time frame set by Lynn Britton, chief executive of St. Louis-based Mercy Health System, which operates St. John's Regional Hospital. Since the 367-bed hospital was smashed by the tornado, St. John's has been operating out of a mobile medical unit while planning to rebuild one of Joplin's largest employers.

"If we can find a site, get the land purchased and the design ready, the board (of directors) of Mercy will act on that during its December board meeting," Gary Pulsipher, president of St. John's said Monday. "That means we could start turning soil in January."

Pulsipher said a search committee has begun looking for a site. About 50 people who have land for sale have contacted the hospital. He said it is likely that the new St. John's will need about 70 acres, about the size of its existing property, The Joplin Globe reported Tuesday.

It is unlikely that the new St. John's will be built near its present site because it is too close to another major hospital, Freeman Hospital West. Pulsipher called it a miracle that Freeman wasn't also damaged in the storm and said the two hospitals need to be farther apart.

Traffic flow, population trends and the wishes of Joplin residents will be among the considerations for choosing a site, he said.

In the meantime, Pulsipher said the mobile hospital has 20 patients. Serious cases are transferred to St. John's Regional Health Center in Springfield and to Via Christi Hospital in Pittsburg, Kan.

The mobile medical unit, Pulsipher said, will be replaced by a second-stage hospital within a few months.

"This will be a component hospital," he said. "It will be made of structural steel. It will take four months to get it up and running. It will serve as our hospital for the 2 1/2 years that it will take to construct the new one."

St. John's will continue to use the Holiday Inn Convention Center as its base of operations but hopes to have new office space by next month.

Pulsipher said a decision about demolishing the old structure has not been made but it likely will be torn down.


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