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GRMC responds, recovers from tornado with community support

(CNA photo by SARAH BROWN)
Windows at the pharmacy on the east end of the facility at Greater Regional Medical Center, which were blown out by 130 mile winds, have been replaced.

Greater Regional Medical Center was two weeks away from an open house to unveil a newly renovated wing of the facility, when it was struck by an EF-2 tornado 7:02 p.m., April 14, 2012.

Now, one year after the devastating tornado, which caused more than $10 million in damage, the facility is fully restored.

“It looked like a war zone,” said Dr. Robert M. Kuhl in a video produced by staff at Greater Regional Medical Center. “The devastation was incredible. There was no hint of what it would looking like on the inside from the outside.”

Inside the building, dangerous amounts of broken glass, ceiling tiles and debris, such as branches were strewn about. Torrential rain caused “waterfalls” to pour through the ceiling among damaged wiring, which dangled from the demolished ceilings.

Greater Regional Medical Center executivedirector, continuum care, LouAnn Snodgrass said the entire hospital was impacted, but the primary damage was loss of the roof, which covered the hospital and clinic. Without the roof, water poured into the building, damaging the carpets, equipment, computers and paper medical records.


A makeshift triage and emergency room were established in the medical arts plaza, because the emergency room was “unusable”. Outside, a line of ambulances waited to transport patients to other medical facilities and nursing homes in Union County.

“Our first priority was to deliver care to our patients, as quickly and with the high quality they are accustomed to,” said Snodgrass.

As nurses rode with patients in ambulances to other facilities, contractors were mobilizing by 8 p.m. and on site by 10 p.m. to survey the damage.

One staff member said a human chain of staff and volunteers formed from the waiting room to the file room in an attempt to salvage 40,000 paper medical records, which were moved to a dry area and covered with tarps. GRMC contracted with a company to take the records offsite to be freeze-dried.


“The first day we spent determining if there was enough destruction to rebuild,” said Snodgrass. “Then we focused on a temporary roof.”

Snodgrass said employees worked to determine what equipment was able to be salvaged and spent the days after the tornado drying out the equipment and facility with hoses and dehumidifiers.

“The first thing we wanted to get done was open our emergency department,” said Snodgrass.

GRMC’s emergency department reopened May 23, 2012, and all services were back in operation by July 1, 2012. The last of the reconstruction was a stained glass window, a memorial gift by the Richardson family, at the hospice house, which was replaced Saturday, which Snodgrass said is a key focal point of the facility.

“We were excited,” said Snodgrass of the response and rebuild. “We were able to do it because of the partnerships we have with the community, contractors, employees, physicians and our volunteers. Every one pulled  through and got us back on our feet. We had tremendous community volunteers.”

In retrospect

“At the time of the tornado, we were not in warning or risk,” said Snodgrass. “Normally, we would have had our patients in the hallways.”

Moving patients into the hallways was part of GRMC tornado emergency plan, to avoid being sprayed by glass from the windows. The lack of a tornado warning was a “blessing in disguise” to Chief Nursing Officer, Gwen Buck, R.N. who said in the video the hallway turned into a windtunnel of flying debris. Had patients been in the hallways as planned, more serious injuries could have occurred.

“We have now modified where we will take patients in the event of a tornado,” said Snodgrass.

Snodgrass said the tornado created a greater sense of teamwork.

“Our physicians got together and really looked at how they can enhance the delivery of care,” said Snodgrass. “They are collaborating in new and different ways to provide the best patient care.”

“Thankfully, there was no loss of life considering all that happened,” said Snodgrass. “Our people responded in a fantastic way and you couldn’t ask for better.”

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