Mercy is built to survive
March 01, 2015


Amid the ruins of the May 2011 tornado at left sits St. Johns Hospital. At right, the hospital now named Mercy Hospital Joplin nears completion almost four years later.

by Bradley Haller

On time and under budget, the doors are nearly open at the new Mercy Hospital Joplin. Inside and out, the 900,000-square-foot facility makes good on Mercy’s bold promise to the community to replace the tornado-ravaged St. John’s Regional Medical Center with a stronger, state-of-the-art hospital.

“The new building is opening just 46 months after the tornado hit Joplin, which is approximately half the time you would normally anticipate to plan, design and construct a similarly sized hospital,” said Ryan Felton, project director for McCarthy Building Companies, Inc.

The community is invited to a public open house on March 7, 2015, for the new $465 million Mercy Hospital Joplin. The building is part of a $1 billion Mercy commitment. Tours will be provided for the nine-story hospital patient tower and five-story clinic office. Features include a unique neonatal intensive care unit, the most advanced linear accelerator for cancer treatment, a cutting edge emergency department and unprecedented “storm hardened” safety features.

“Having windows that can withstand a storm is a huge deal,” said Gary Pulsipher, president of Mercy Hospital Joplin. “Winds like the ones we experienced in the May 2011 tornado caused major damage and once inside the building, they tore things apart and sent debris flying. There was no question we needed to prevent that going forward.”

That’s why the structure incorporates a window and frame system that can protect its most vulnerable patients from winds up to 250 miles per hour. Mercy also added a concrete roof, fortified “safe zones” on every floor and half-buried generators away from the main building. Those are the most obvious of many innovations conceived to protect occupants, the hospital and its life-saving services in the event of another disaster.

“That was a historic storm that taught us many lessons,” said John Farnen, executive director of strategic projects for Mercy who oversaw the building’s construction. Engineers and architects with McCarthy and HKS Architects studied the aftermath, looking where Mercy could best apply its unique experience.

Strengthened windows have been added to other Mercy buildings during construction, including an orthopedic hospital in Springfield, Missouri, and a rehabilitation hospital in Oklahoma City. Mercy’s new hospitals will get the strongest windows where needed, utilities will be better protected from storms and changes will come to existing facilities, as well, such as new laminate films that will harden glass against storms.

“Because of our goals and requirements in Joplin, we worked closely with our window supplier to invent a new window glazing system that’s like no other,” said Terry Bader, Mercy’s vice president of planning, design and construction.

Mercy saw firsthand how strengthened windows survived the 2011 storm. Windows in the behavioral health unit of the old hospital, where strengthened glass had been installed prior to the storm, were intact. “Seeing how those windows survived helped get us thinking about windows in the new hospital and elsewhere,” said Pulsipher.

The new hospital has three types of windows. Lobbies and other public areas, where able-bodied visitors can move to safer areas, have windows with a rating for 110 mph winds, stronger than the typical 90 mph rating for commercial buildings. Mercy added a film of plastic laminate to prevent the glass from shattering. The hospital's new emergency department rooms, as well as the hallways connecting the hospital and clinic tower, have laminated glass that’s designed to withstand winds of 140 mph.

The strongest windows are installed in both intensive care units. Testing was conducted in a Minnesota warehouse, where technicians shot the glass with 15-pound, 2x4 wooden missiles at 100 mph, which is how fast debris is typically flying in a 250 mph tornado.

The devastation of the 2011 tornado spurred about $11 million in upgrades specifically designed to harden the new hospital against natural disasters. The advances will protect patients, visitors and co-workers from future storms, and they will ensure that Mercy Hospital Joplin will remain the “last light on” and a source of life-saving services. Upgrades include:

“Mercy applied unheard of standards to areas of the hospital where people can’t quickly escape, protecting even our frailest patients who depend on life-sustaining equipment,” Pulsipher said. “It’s part of understanding the unique role of a hospital – what it is, what it does and who it serves.”

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New construction standardspjselman827302015-03-13 10:06:25