By Debra Wood, RN, contributor
May 24, 2013 - All the drills and disaster preparation paid off at Moore Medical Center this week, when it sustained a direct hit by a high-intensity tornado, with winds exceeding 200 miles per hour, and all of the patients and staff survived without injuries.
“I’m proud of my staff, the other nurses, clinical and other staff,” said Nick Stremble, RN, emergency department manager at Moore Medical Center in Moore, Okla., who had never been through a tornado before. “Everybody kept a level head and did what they were supposed to do. It’s a tribute to the staff and community members inside who remained calm. That’s the only reason everybody walked out.”
Aerial views of Moore Medical Center after being damaged by the tornado that touched down in the area on May 20, 2013. FEMA continues to assist disaster survivors and encourages them to register for assistance. Jocelyn Augustino/FEMA
Stremble recalled having about 16 or 17 minutes from the time the hospital sounded a “Code Black” weather alert to the time the twister hit. Personnel knew there was the possibility of a large event.
Nurses moved the patients to a safe area of the hospital, many in the cafeteria, which had no windows and was in the center of the building.
“We got lucky in that every inpatient and ED patient at the time was somewhat mobile and could walk or be transferred to a wheelchair,” Stremble said. “The hospital was not that busy that day.”
About 30 patients, outpatients and a couple of hundred people from the neighboring community who streamed into the hospital seeking shelter were in the building. Stremble helped locate them in the cafeteria.
Once the emergency department patients were safely moved, ED nurses stayed with them, and Stremble went upstairs to help relocate inpatients. Since most could walk with assistance or use a wheelchair, they brought them downstairs as well, rather than leaving them in the hallway with the doors closed, as was the original plan.
“Even if they had stayed, they would have been OK,” Stremble said.
Labor and delivery nurse Cheryl Stoepker, RN, held onto a newly delivered mother and her baby, one she had helped deliver only one hour before. As the storm raged, she told MSNBC that she could hear the hail hitting the building and just prayed with her patient.
Stremble returned to the second floor for a final check of all rooms and learned there was one patient in a surgery suite in the labor and delivery area. An actively laboring woman was with four nurses, including a CRNA. Those nurses stayed with her throughout the tornado, covering her with blankets and their bodies as one of the room’s walls disappeared.
The patient survived, walked down a stairwell with the nurses, and later delivered a healthy child.
Barbara Brand, RN, one of the nurses who stayed with the laboring mom told NBC News that “God was with us.”
Ceiling tiles and light fixtures fell in the cafeteria but the damage to the area was comparatively minor. After the storm passed, Stremble and other staff helped patients exit through the outpatient surgical waiting room at the back of the building. The front had been ripped off and was impassable, although Stremble crawled out to notify arriving firefighters and emergency medical personnel that patients were at the back of the structure.
He then returned to the building and began helping them to leave the damaged structure. They moved patients to a parking lot between the hospital and a movie theater. He also began to prepare to tend to newly arriving injured patients from the community.
Ambulances began to arrive to transport patients to other hospitals. Patients had to wait a little while in the on again, off again rain.
“Once the tornado passed, it wasn’t that bad,” he said.
Stremble and other employees had drilled and prepared for such an event. Sometimes, alerts are issued and no storm arrives. But still, the people at Moore Medical Center, fortunately, took this warning seriously.
“The message of the day is preparedness and planning,” Stremble said. “It sticks with you and when it’s time to use it, it comes back to you. It was nurses doing what nurses do.”
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