The story of Mercy in Joplin



© 2012 Mercy. All rights reserved.



Table of Contents
Preface . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5 After the storm: A surprising promise . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 7 A closer look | Many hearts hear a call to action . . . . . 17 From a dark hour to a bright future . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .22 A closer look | Hope for schools . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .34 Balancing “your five” to help Joplin thrive . . . . . . . . . . . .37 A closer look | Giving children an extra lift . . . . . . . . . . . 44 About this series . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .47



A direct hit
Sunday, May 22, 2011, at 5:41 p.m. A twister strengthens into an EF5 just as it tears into St. John’s Regional Medical Center. At the hospital, 117 co-workers rescue 183 patients. Five patients and one visitor die.

W t St W. 7th St.


E 7 h St E. 7th St.

E. 20t St. 20th

W. 20th St.

E. 32nd St. S. Main St. S. Duquense Rd.



S. Range Line Rd.


Mile le l



EF0 86

EF1 111




EF5 200+

136 166 Winds in mph

The storm kills 161 people and destroys 8,000 structures, including 7,000 homes.





he deadliest U.S. tornado in modern times descended on Joplin, Mo., in May 2011. Winds churning at 200 mph leveled nearly every home, school and business in a path six miles long and nearly a mile wide. Amid the destruction stood the ruins of St. John’s Regional Medical Center, a part of Mercy since 2009 and whose nine stories of shattered windows and crumpled metal became an iconic image of the broken city. For 90 minutes, Mercy co-workers and volunteers evacuated 183 patients from their rooms, carrying them down dark, debris-strewn stairs to safety. The people of Joplin have fought to recover and rebuild their Midwestern homeland. In their progress emerge tales of inspiration and hope. The Mercy hospital is one, a story that reaches across medicine, faith and community. Mercy leaders quickly pledged to build a new Mercy hospital in Joplin. They also would keep paying all 2,200 co-workers until the hospital was ready. The ministry, in turn, asked many to fill temporary jobs, sometimes exciting, sometimes nearby — and sometimes not. Mercy dispatched some to help residents cope with the fears and trauma the storm left behind. The campus of the old St. John’s also became a gift to the people of Joplin. Co-workers and residents will shape the facets of what Mercy expects to be a community jewel. Mercy is a ministry committed to helping Joplin recover physically and emotionally. It is working to fulfill the legacy of the Sisters of Mercy, whose concern for the needy led to Joplin’s first hospital in 1896. This is the story of Mercy caring for its people as they attend to others, and each other.


The Wednesday morning after the tornado, CEO Lynn Britton told a press conference that co-worker jobs were safe and that Mercy would rebuild.


After the storm: A surprising promise


t was hours after the tornado before Pam Messbarger could take time to think and cry. The 2011 storm had trapped her in an office at St. John’s Regional Medical Center, where the housekeeping manager joined hundreds of co-workers in a scramble to save patients. Only much later, having picked her way through the devastated streets of Joplin to her own wrecked home, could she sit and worry about herself. “I was sure as shootin’ I didn’t have a job,” she remembers thinking. “I was wondering how I could make it on unemployment.”




A Holiday Inn convention center became the reception desk for co-workers needing help.


The next day, the rumors began. Some dark, most uncertain — but one was persistent if hard to believe: Mercy would keep paying everybody, as if nothing had happened. It became official two days later with the announcement by Lynn Britton, Mercy’s chief executive officer, that the health ministry would rebuild in Joplin. Paychecks would continue for all employees even if Mercy didn’t have a job for them. “We were amazed,” says Kyle Willard, a St. John’s respiratory therapist. Mercy at first would build temporary structures called St. John’s Mercy, and then a new and permanent home to be called Mercy Hospital Joplin. That alone was good news to co-workers. But to keep all 2,200 paychecks flowing until then? No decision in the aftermath of the tornado has drawn more attention to the St. Louis-based organization. Mercy’s leaders were relative newcomers to Joplin, having assumed responsibility for the hospital only 18 months before the tornado. Joplin co-workers couldn’t know what to expect. “Another company would have just taken the insurance check and run,” says Willard. But Mercy isn’t a company, it’s a ministry. It is built on a culture of service that arises from its Catholic roots and the Sisters of Mercy who founded it, explains Sister Cabrini Koelsch, director of mission services for the Joplin hospital. But even Sr. Cabrini seems startled at just how far the ministry went. “I was in awe,” she says of the announcement that paychecks would continue. “And the people of Joplin were in awe.” The top leadership says they never considered leaving Joplin, an economic hub of the four-state area. “Half of that hub was health care, and half of that was knocked out of commission by the tornado,” says Britton, the CEO. Ministry leaders understood if they wanted to rebuild their presence, they needed the hospital staff intact. It was also the right thing to do, says Britton. “We felt a tremendous responsibility to Joplin.” Even after it was official, word of Mercy’s decision took days to reach all its co-workers. The tornado had leveled the homes

of hundreds of them, and they had scattered to find shelter with families and friends. Mercy wanted to reach them with immediate financial help. “They hit us first with $500 — I think it was within just two or three days,” says Pete Anastosopolos, a hospital supplies manager whose home was reduced to a driveway and steps. “Then another $2,000 a few days after that.” Mercy set up a central desk where employees could call and check in. Within a week, the ministry had contacted all its


co-workers to check and address their needs. That initial $500 could be wired so it was available immediately, perhaps for a hotel room or clothes. More money could be had, depending on how badly the tornado had hit a co-worker. “We just had to make an evaluation quickly as best we could,” says Ellen Strote, a human resources manager in Joplin. “You had to step out in faith to help people immediately.”


Leaders tried to convince Mercy co-workers: “If you weren’t worried about your job before the tornado, you needn’t worry about it now.”


The money wasn’t an advance on pay. It was a gift from Mercy co-workers and others who contributed to a special fund on behalf of stricken co-workers. Later, that fund provided added support to those affected through a more formal process with applications and income verification. But in those early days, paperwork wasn’t to get in the way of help. New job assignments were more complicated. It would take weeks, even months for some co-workers to replace duties that had blown away with the tornado. Mercy’s top leaders took an early cue from the scattering of patients, who had been transported to hospitals across the region. That suggested the idea of a “talent share” program between those hospitals and Mercy to ease the temporary pressure on other facilities that wouldn’t want to hire permanent staff. Some assignments were obvious. The radiation oncology co-workers went to Pittsburg, Kan., about a 45-minute drive from Joplin, to the Via Christi Hospital where their patients were being diverted. “They ended up following their patients,” says Colette St. Peter, a human resources manager in Joplin. Many co-workers stayed in Joplin where Mercy opened a tent hospital within a week and a modular hospital a few months later. A large group, about 60 initially and later as many as 200, went to McCune-Brooks Regional Hospital, about 10 miles northeast of Joplin. About 150 went to Springfield, Mo., 70 to Rogers, Ark., and smaller numbers to places like Kansas City, and as far as Oklahoma City and St. Louis. Host organizations, as the partners were called, signed contracts with Mercy for the co-workers. The hosts paid their prevailing wage and if lower than the co-worker’s pay at Mercy, the ministry made up the difference and maintained benefits. At its peak, about 400 co-workers participated in the program at nearly 20 host organizations, split nearly evenly between Mercy institutions and outside companies. Mercy extended its commitment beyond current employees. They included one unusual group — graduate nurses scheduled


Cities that hosted Mercy co-workers
= Host locations

Fort Scott t Pittsburg ur r Kansas City St. Louis o i

Car rthage


S Springfield A Aurora Aurora Neosho Neosh N osho R gers Roge Rogers

Oklahoma City


Fort Smith H Hot Springs

A Ardmore

to join Mercy just after the tornado. “If we had signed you up for a job, you got to come work for us,” Colette St. Peter says. The new graduates went to a Mercy hospital in Rogers, Ark., for their orientation. The HR department set up an online jobs board where co-workers could scan and apply for available jobs. Sometimes the department would call with suggested jobs, which co-workers could turn down twice but not three times, whatever the job and travel involved. “It was fair — we understood we had three strikes,” says James Oliver, a radiation therapist.


Oliver initially went to Mercy Memorial Health Center in Ardmore, Okla. But he was willing to stay flexible to keep busy, and also worked in Fort Smith, Ark., as well as a couple of times in Joplin. The local jobs included working as a valet, parking patient cars and helping them into the temporary hospital that Mercy erected near the old St. John’s. Valet duties provided temporary jobs for a number of local employees, including Kara Malcolm, who had run one of the preschool classrooms in a building on the St. John’s campus. Malcolm also worked for a while in Springfield helping fill orders for “Mercy Rising” T-shirts, then for several months at the HR department in Joplin, as a van driver and as an administrative aide at the construction office near Mercy’s new hospital site. She’s not complaining about the variety. The experience encouraged Malcolm to resume her college studies and consider a new long-term career. “I’ve learned all kinds of new things and met a lot of different people.” Those new experiences often benefit Mercy as well by exposing its workforce to new procedures and skills. Rita Jens, a Mercy Joplin nurse, jumped at a chance to move temporarily to Oklahoma City so co-workers with young children wouldn’t have to. As a bonus, she’d get trained in the neonatal intensive care unit there. St. John’s in Joplin did not have a NICU. But the new hospital will, and Jens will arrive back in Joplin with valuable skills in caring for newborns. Along with interesting new jobs were innumerable sacrifices that co-workers made: radiation therapists parking cars, administrative aides greeting patients, technicians pulling documents in warehouses, nurses traveling an hour to-and-from work. But not many Mercy employees complained about the sometimes awkward duties. All the new jobs came with the old checks. Co-workers felt lucky to be working for a ministry. “It was a stupid business move,” Sr. Cabrini says with a smile. “But it was the right thing for us to do.”


James Oliver grew up in the Joplin area, and returned just two months before the storm.


James Oliver’s year on the move after the tornado
March 2011: Joins St. John’s as radiation therapist May: tornado hits

July: Radiation therapist at Mercy Hospital Ardmore, Okla.

August: Valet at temporary hospital in Joplin

September: Radiation therapist at Mercy Hospital Fort Smith, Ark.

December: Valet at temporary hospital in Joplin


Still, few at Mercy were disappointed as the temporary jobs began to wind down in late 2011. The process accelerated in spring 2012 with the opening of the new, full-service Mercy Hospital Joplin. “I can’t believe it’s coming to an end,” Colette St. Peter said as co-workers came back to Joplin to staff the new hospital. “I would

An experienced intensive care nurse, Rita Jens learns the special care that newborns require.

have thought it would take three years to get to this point. It’s nice that just about everyone is coming home so much sooner.” Some wouldn’t be coming back. A few chose to retire and a number of Mercy co-workers took jobs elsewhere. But many did not even when they had the chance, such as doctors recruited by other hospitals in the wake of the tornado. “I was willing to stand by Mercy if Mercy was willing to stand by me,” says Dr. Hilton McDonald, a Mercy physician. “They were and I have." While scattered about, many co-workers actually feel they grew closer to their colleagues. “Now when they all see each other, they appreciate it more,” says Gary Pulsipher, the Joplin hospital’s president. “The tornado drew us together in ways we could not have anticipated.”




Many hearts hear a call to action
Drew Alexander calls them “those crazy girls.” Alexander, director of St. John’s emergency department, is referring to four members of his team who went above and beyond to help Joplin residents cut off by debris in the aftermath of the tornado. Alexander won’t name the women. He says they insist on anonymity. Even so, Alexander loves telling how these nurses

Mercy co-workers were among the many outsiders who brought supplies to a storm-torn Joplin.


worked 12-hour shifts at the temporary triage center at Joplin’s Memorial Hall, then with what little daylight was left jumped into four donated pickup trucks to deliver goods to area residents. It reminded him of stories about the Sisters of Mercy who founded the Joplin hospital. “You weren’t going to stop them. You couldn’t have stopped them. They would’ve thumped your skulls.” The enterprise got going when one of the nurses contacted a relative who owned a car dealership outside of town. He immediately offered four Ford pickups, no charge and no time limit. After the tornado, many homeowners found they had no way to get out for groceries. Their vehicles were destroyed and paths blocked by downed trees and strewn rubble. Undaunted, the nurses picked up hamburgers, hotdogs, diapers, ice and dog food, then fell in “behind the boys in backhoes,” following them as they cleared a path into Joplin’s hardest hit neighborhoods.



“Then they would come out and load up again and go in another direction,” Alexander says. One reason the nurses prefer to remain anonymous is they were among hundreds of Mercy co-workers who helped in the community and among thousands across Joplin who helped their neighbors. It wasn’t just the rank-and-file, and not just Joplinites. “One of the healing things for me was when the Mercy leaders came on a bus and got involved in cleaning debris,” says Terry Wachter, the hospital’s vice president of mission. Wachter explains that Mercy leaders gather regularly for meetings and when they learned in July 2011 that Joplin was under a FEMA deadline to remove debris, they took one of their two scheduled days for meetings and acted. More than 100 Mercy leaders from four states went into the community, cleaned up debris and piled it at the street corner. “We got our own chain saws and rakes and helped our community get it done.”
With whole neighborhoods flattened, thousands came to Joplin to help with the cleanup.



Looking out for one another

Alexander, the emergency department chief, says many Mercy co-workers had to deal with their own tornado-related distress, including injured loved ones and homes that were destroyed. But what he would hear most often: “Somebody has it worse than I do.” One who surely had it bad was Jill Howard, who was home with sons Keenan, Konnor, Korbin and Kaleb when the tornado struck. They rode out the storm in a closet, while Jill’s husband, Kyle, a Joplin firefighter, was at work. The Howards lost their home, but their plight drew the attention of “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition,” a television reality show that came to Joplin to rebuild seven homes in seven days for its 200th episode. Hundreds of Mercy co-workers volunteered to join in building the new homes on South Connor Street in October 2011. Another 60 Mercy nurses staffed the show’s medical tent. The Howards’ home is a just a mile from their old one and, Jill Howard adds, “I can see St. John’s from my back porch.” She says she was overwhelmed by the support shown by volunteers who came from all over the country to do the building and especially those from Mercy who turned out to help. “The fact that people here took time out of their work schedules and their personal lives to help friends and families was amazing.” Howard works at the front desk of the emergency department and always tries to be “the smile” that patients and families find when they arrive for care. Now, it was her turn to be touched by kindness. She has said many thank yous, but finds the best way to share her blessings is to pay them forward. One of her new neighbors on South Connor has a child being treated for leukemia at a hospital in Kansas City. When the parents head off to Kansas City, Howard cares for their other children. Mercy caregivers looked out for each other in other ways as well. Pam Messbarger, a housekeeping lead at St. John’s, was



Flanked by designers and builders, the Howards celebrate their new home.

Photo by Springfield News-Leader

on duty on the day of the storm and among those who helped evacuate the hospital. As she left many hours after the storm, she found “my little PT Cruiser” crushed under a pile of vehicles on the parking lot. With a flashlight, Messbarger walked a mile through the broken streets to her home only to find that it was severely damaged as well. When Ellen Strote, senior HR manager, learned of Pam’s plight, she could offer immediate cash to help get her started again. The money was from a Mercy Joplin co-worker relief fund, but Strote also did something for her on a personal level, something Messbarger will never forget. “Ellen, my guardian angel, told me she had a second car and she offered me that car to use ‘til I could get a car bought. I was dumbfounded. What Ellen did for me was absolutely awesome.”



From a dark hour to a bright future


t was a heady assignment when Mercy’s top leaders called Kyle Falkenrath to a teleconference. A project manager with Mercy in St. Louis, he was asked to come with ideas of how to use the ravaged campus of St. John’s hospital, which soon would be a huge, empty lot. Falkenrath, who hadn’t worked before with Mercy’s senior leaders, suggested the site could be a “branding opportunity” to promote Mercy in a highly visible way. CEO Lynn Britton cut him short. “This moment is bigger than us, bigger than just Mercy,” Britton told him. “It’s about the community of Joplin, it’s about acknowledging what has happened. But more important, it’s about recovering.” Falkenrath was humbled — and impressed: “That set the tone for what we’re doing.” What Mercy is doing amounts to a gift to Joplin. A series of gifts, actually, as the ministry works with residents, community leaders and its own co-workers to conceive a new center of reverence, learning and art that Joplin can treasure for decades.



This negative image highlights the debris at the site of the old St. John’s hospital and nearby buildings.




Ideas for the old campus
Possible uses are taking shape in discussions with Mercy co-workers and Joplin residents
LEARNING A MUSEUM would tell the story of Joplin and the tornado, and reach further back to explain the mining roots and grit that give today’s residents their strength. A pedestrian bridge might connect the restored Cunningham Park across 26th Street to the outdoor museum courtyard. NATURE A MEMORIAL GARDEN would offer residents and co-workers a peaceful place to honor those who suffered in the tornado, and to remember the hospital that once stood there. Artifacts would remind visitors of the building itself and the lives it touched. ARTS The STAINED GLASS THEATER would relocate to bring to life its Christian-based messages through plays. The theater could also be used by the elementary school, museum and community groups. CHILDREN A new ELEMENTARY SCHOOL will replace two schools lost to the tornado. Schoolchildren would have access to the garden, museum and natural areas for learning. COMMUNITY An area primarily intended for PARKING could include sections with restored natural beauty and trees offering a buffer for the adjoining road and properties.


W. 26th Street Museum space may connect with park across street CARING


McClelland Blvd.

Site of tree wrapped in semi-truck

Former site of Stained Glass Theater

School to share parking with theater



St. Jo

hn ’s B lvd .









Across town from the wrecked hospital campus, leaders of the Joplin school district faced their own issues. The twister had destroyed or heavily damaged half the district’s buildings, including the high school. It was a bleak time, in the early hours of the Tuesday after the tornado, that C.J. Huff found himself wide awake and alone in his makeshift office at a surviving school. The Joplin schools superintendent had spent the day learning just how bad the damage was — that 4,200 of his students no longer had a school to attend. “To be honest, I had a good cry,” he recalls. “What do I do?” he asked himself. “Who do I turn to?” Like many in the wake of the tornado, he would turn to Mercy. The district managed to get summer school up and running and secured temporary buildings for the fall. But it would need to replace its destroyed schools. And the schools needed land on which to build. Huff heard Mercy was going to rebuild at a different site from the St. John’s campus. He called Gary Pulsipher, the hospital president, and said the district might be interested in buying some of that land.

Irving Elementary was one of six school buildings destroyed by the winds.


Pulsipher, it turns out, had just left a meeting where Mercy leaders decided to give away the property. “They gave us first pick,” Huff recalls with a smile.
A quilt for Joplin

The new school will take about a dozen acres. That leaves more than 30 acres of the former St. John’s property, and listening to co-workers and residents has yielded a number of ideas. Mercy leaders are working with co-workers and residents to weave them together. The results might be seen as a healing quilt that blends arts, memories, activities and community into a complex that one day could draw visitors from across the region. Tentative plans include a theater, museum, memorial garden and a small forested area. Each will work with the other, and all with the new school in a family of attractions and sites that honor the past, look to the future and fill the present. “We can envision tour buses pulling up and having enough there to keep visitors busy for the day,” Falkenrath says. Britton had suggested donating the property to the community and asked the local Mercy hospital board to consider how that could be done with maximum impact. “We didn’t give a lot of time to the idea of selling it,” Pulsipher says. That’s despite the property having tremendous value as part of a long medical corridor. “They could have sold that land for a significant amount of money,” says Danny Thomas, the general manager of a TV station and chair of the local Mercy board. “But Mercy sees that as hallowed ground.” Five patients and a visitor died in St. John’s the night of the tornado. Three other people died at the Stained Glass Theatre, a Christian-based amateur company that leased an old church from Mercy for its productions. Early meetings about the old campus have evoked strong emotions, including among a group of co-workers gathered to begin looking at specific ideas.


At a community meeting on rebuilding Joplin, many residents asked for new facilities to host special events and cultural activities.

“Five minutes in, I was crying,” says Falkenrath. The meeting turned into an outpouring of the emotion that Mercy folks feel for the old hospital. “Literally, I spent four hours with tissues in my hand.” The experience reinforced for him that plans for the grounds are in the hands of co-workers and residents. They will decide what kind of memorial is erected to the victims of the tornado and to the memory of St. John’s. Mercy is just starting a long process with all the complications of many voices and points of view in a city recovering from a terrible disaster. “As discussions get going, we’re all starting to see just how raw and deep is the scar left by the tornado,” says Brad Belk, a Joplin historian and director of the Joplin Museum Complex. “But it’s a fabulous thing that Mercy is doing for the community.”



The memorials will start when the last of the buildings come down, which could be as early as September 2012. Mercy doesn’t want to leave a barren lot while planning proceeds on how to fill it. As the last demolition truck leaves, Mercy co-workers will be invited to the grounds for a memorial ceremony that will include sprinkling the area with wildflower seeds.
A home for a school

Demolition started at the south end of the property to accommodate school construction. The district aims to have the new elementary school open for the 2013-2014 school year. School leaders chose the south end of the property because it was not undermined by digging for lead and zinc a century earlier. Experts from the district and Mercy checked thoroughly to make sure no mine shafts or other geological issues would threaten a large building there. “We were very careful in positioning the school on the site,” Falkenrath says. School site The new building will hold as many as 600 students and will replace the Irving and Emerson elementary schools that were destroyed by the tornado. The classroom building itself will be the first phase of the school project. Then, as temporary clinics that sit east of the school are removed, that land will open up for landscaping and school parking. The school district has indicated it could also maintain a parking lot that will sit north of the school property. The parking could be shared with a new Stained Glass Theatre that will occupy another parcel north of the school. The theater, meanwhile, has suggested it could let the district use its property as a staging area for construction of the school. The cooperation reflects a fastdeveloping sense of neighborhood that’s taking shape as plans proceed for the former St. John’s campus.


Three people died in the collapsed Stained Glass Theater (foreground). Only the lower level remained, with a car dangling where the stage was.

A new act

Mercy felt strongly about continuing its commitment to the theater, whose former home was flattened by the storm. The company was taking curtain calls after a performance of “I Remember Mama” when the warning sirens went off. The tornado destroyed the building, killing three of the roughly 50 people left inside. Mercy also envisions the theater as potentially working in collaboration with the school, the museum and community groups. Theater site “This gives us a direction for a permanent home,” wrote Gregg Murdock, the theater board’s president, on the theater company’s blog. He praised Mercy for its “very gracious” intentions.



Growing memories

North of the theater, a memorial garden would occupy the site of the hospital itself. Early plans envision visitors walking a “memory path” Memorial that will commemorate lives lost in the tornado. garden Co-workers have asked that the garden include landmarks from the hospital, particularly statues that long stood throughout the hospital. The thought is to arrange the statues and other landmarks in roughly the same relative location of their former departments, allowing visitors to experience again the hospital flow and layout within a wooded setting. Each path might lead to the hospital chapel, recreated in the open air of the forested garden. Co-worker desire for religious statues complicates original plans to turn the gardens over to the city of Joplin, along with other sections of the site. Mercy is exploring other ownership arrangements, perhaps a trust or foundation that could ensure an appropriate separation between the city and religious expression.

A statue of Jesus Christ was left leaning forward after the tornado, becoming known among co-workers as “the flying Jesus.”



Making history

At the northern end of the site, plans include a memorial museum and courtyard. The courtyard will feature exhibits that demonstrate the force of the tornado. The museum will house artifacts and multimedia presentations to commemorate events surrounding the storm, recovery efforts and the history of Joplin. Brad Belk, the museum director, has already worked with Mercy to capture artifacts from St. John’s. Some are as small as Venetian blinds twisted in grotesque shapes from the horrific winds that swept through the hospital, or as big as a semitrailer truck that wrapped itself completely around a tree at the north end of the

Museum site

The wind tossed vehicles like toys, wrapping a truck around a tree.


property. Mercy contractors cut the semi in two halves and are storing it in a Springfield warehouse for eventual display in the museum or courtyard. Mercy has also tried to save the tree itself as a testament to the grit that underpins the Joplin community as it brings itself back from a massive disaster. Arborists say it’s unclear if the tree will make it. “It’s remarkable it’s standing at all,” Falkenrath says. •••
‘Above and beyond’

How quickly the plans can take shape also depends on fund raising. Each piece will likely have its own campaign to draw support from foundations, the community and businesses. A paved walk that’s envisioned as a path linking the many sections, for example, might be built from bricks that can be bought as memorials to family or friends. Mercy co-workers, Sisters and ministry and community volunteers will guide the planning. Many are especially excited about bringing children back to the site, which offers a huge educational opportunity. Schoolchildren can learn about Joplin’s history and about the plant and animal life that will occupy the gardens. “You have the potential for a field trip every day,” Falkenrath says. Much of the complex will start as a memorial to a devastating event. Co-workers can watch it grow and develop into something broader for the community. City leaders appreciate the input that Mercy has given them in charting plans for the site. For its part, Joplin has hired a master planner who can help finalize details and mesh the site with other developments and memorials in the city. “They’ve been great corporate citizens,” City Manager R. Mark Rohr says of Mercy. “They’ve gone above and beyond.”




Hope for schools
The cooperation between Mercy and Joplin’s schools began soon after the tornado had ravaged the former St. John’s hospital. With nearly 200 patients evacuated, and scores of newly injured flocking to the ruined building, the Joplin school district dispatched buses to help transport the wounded to other locations. Looking at the Joplin schools explains the breadth and strength of the tornado. The winds forced the district to raze one-third of its 18 schools, and damaged or destroyed the homes of about half its 7,000 students. But within days of the storm, Superintendent C.J. Huff boldly announced the schools would reopen on time for fall classes. Still, district leaders worried about how many students would show, with enrollment in the fall an important signal for the district’s future. It was down just 5 percent, with more students at the high school than a year earlier. Huff gives a


Right: Duct-taped letters gave new meaning to the two letters of “Joplin” that winds left behind.


large measure of credit to Mercy’s decision to stay and rebuild, saying it encouraged families to stay. Mercy also worked with district leaders to replace two schools more quickly. Donating former St. John’s land for an elementary school, which will combine students from a couple of ruined buildings, helped accelerate its opening by months. Mercy worked well with the city and the schools, says Rob O’Brian, president of the Joplin Area Chamber of Commerce. “They’ve been focused on the future of Mercy, but they’ve done it in a way that says, ‘We’re focused on the community.’ “That’s a powerful statement.” Meanwhile, Mercy’s assurance of jobs for its employees was good news for Ashley Micklethwaite, the hospital’s grants manager. But Micklethwaite was also president of the school board, and her supervisor at Mercy told her the community came first — that her most important job was getting the schools running again. “You don’t know how meaningful that was,” Micklethwaite says. “Isn’t that Mercy?”



A nurse provides a group of older adults at a Mercy-sponsored community meeting with tips they can use to prevent or manage diabetes.



Balancing ‘your five’ to help Joplin thrive


ow’s your five? That’s the question Mercy caregivers ask Joplin residents as they continue to deal with the aftermath of the tornado that devastated their community.

Everyone has a five. Your five is what makes you human. Love. Play. Eat. Work. Sleep.

If your five is in disorder, chances are you, too, are in disrepair. As both Mercy and Joplin have shown, a community can rebuild quickly. When its hospital took a direct hit from the tornado, Mercy was back in operation with a tent hospital in a week. It now has a full-service hospital in place and is building a state-of-theart facility. The destruction of buildings required intense planning and hard work to fix. But the emotional toll that the tornado took on the Joplin community is harder to see, and in many ways more difficult to mend. So Mercy caregivers keep asking: How’s your five?


It’s the spiritual starting point for Mercy Community Connections, a group of outreach programs designed by ministry leaders with guidance from counterparts in New Orleans who have dealt with the emotional aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Joplin co-workers have taken their programs into the local community and will sustain them until residents feel right about their five. The programs work on multiple levels. One reaches out to older adults through lunches in church assembly halls. Participants are invited to play card games and pick up information on healthy living habits. Another takes place twice a month at three Joplin schools where residents of all ages come to have dinner out and on Mercy. Hosts welcome children, and provide activities for them while groups of grownups talk about one of the five. Yet another program provides counseling to Joplin’s teachers. Ed Hahn, a Mercy chaplain, leads counseling sessions for teachers and school staff to help students, parents and their fellow educators recover. The stories abound at these sessions. The storm buried one teacher in rubble. Another was in a house destroyed. Many had students whose families were victims and were faced with how to handle the effects on their students.
‘Other people need more help than I do’

Though they deal with diverse groups, Mercy co-workers say the participants have a great deal in common — and not just the tornado. “People are afraid to come forward and ask for help,” says Marilyn Welling, who oversees behavioral health programs at the Joplin hospital. “They don’t want to be seen as crazy, weak and not able to cope.” Another shared point of view is typically Joplin, says Terry Wachter, the hospital’s vice president of mission: “They will say, ‘Other people need help more than I do.’”



Chaplain Ed Hahn talks through their pain with Joplin teachers, who in turn are asked to help students through theirs.

That’s admirable. But Wachter, who has worked at St. John’s and lived in the community for 30 years, says that attitude also needs to be overcome. Otherwise the emotional damage could linger long after Joplin has rebuilt its schools, homes and businesses. Wachter and Welling learned that after traveling to New Orleans, where residents still struggle to recover from the devastation and trauma left by Hurricane Katrina. The Mercy leaders took part in the St. Bernard Project, an award-winning nonprofit organization whose mission is to remove physical, mental and emotional barriers generated by the 2005 hurricane and the Gulf oil spill of 2010. Leaders in the St. Bernard Project emphasize that everyone in a community needs help, and can help others, even if they have lost a loved one, had homes ripped from foundations or emerged


physically and financially unscathed. They place emphasis on getting people out of their homes and interacting with each other. They encourage residents to tell their stories. When listening to one another, residents begin to understand that they aren’t crazy — others are going through it, too — and that they can cope. They see others just like them making progress. “Tell your story,” Welling encourages residents at her Mercy events. “The more you tell it, the better you get.” Mercy Joplin co-workers also got invaluable assistance from the Mercy Family Center in New Orleans where counselors under the leadership of clinical psychologist Doug Walker have created Project Fleur-de-lis, a school-based program that has helped more than 1,000 students at dozens of schools recover from trauma. Walker worked with Mercy Joplin co-workers in the fall of 2011 on resilience training as they developed their outreach programs for

Food and tears mix at dinners where Mercy counselors encourage residents to discuss their feelings.


older adults and families. He returned the following spring to help them create a student-centered program with Joplin schools. “That should complete the circle,” Welling said.
‘We’re not the same’

Alena Mynatt didn’t come to Eastmoreland Elementary to tell her story. She’s there because her boys begged her to come. They came home from classes one day with stickers attached to their foreheads promoting the Mercy-sponsored dinner at their school. As her kids Landon, 16, Katelynn, 10, and twins, Brendan and Brenton, 8, dive into some spaghetti, Mynatt says she was glad to have the night off from cooking. “It’s kind of nice to get a break.” Then with a little encouragement from Ruth West, a Mercy recovery coordinator, she shares her story about the late afternoon of May 22. Her family hunkered up against a wall in the utility room of their home, praying and crying as the storm spun through their neighborhood. Their prayers were answered. All survived. But, “I had … what do they call that?... survivor’s remorse for the longest time. I had a lot of baby clothes in my yard and on my roof. That was the hardest. Then we found a card with the Lord’s Prayer and a little rose right beside it. We thought that was a sign. We still have it. We put it in our Bible.” Still, says Alena, they’re not the same. The tornado “has changed us. It’s getting to be that time of year again. It worries me. I’m antsy about it.”
‘Making new friends is part of the healing’

Over at another table sit Lorna and William Whittenback. To say the tornado changed them would be an understatement. Both were injured, though not severely in the storm that William says tore their home “plum off the map.” The Whittenbacks have rebuilt their home and were at work in April restoring the garden. But for many months, they battled anxiety and depression.



“Losing everything, you just want to give up,” says Lorna. “When I started these meetings, I started getting out more.” The two have moved forward not so much by seeking help as by giving it. William, who ran a lawn care business for 30 years until his retirement, volunteers to mow lawns for homeowners who can’t do it themselves. Lorna makes quilts for the homeless and those in nursing homes. At the dinner, they share their recovery with Susan Breckenridge, a mammography technologist. It’s a balm, too, for Breckenridge, one of the health care workers asked to take on other duties as Mercy rebuilds its facilities. “I meet some interesting people,” Breckenridge says. “The Whittenbacks are wonderful people. And they have each other.” That’s another one of those fives. Earlier that day, 17 older adults gathered at the First Baptist Church on Pearl Avenue where they’re welcomed by Patti Lett, Mercy volunteer coordinator. It’s Patti’s birthday. She tells the group she is 23 years old, but truth be told she looks to be just a bit older than that. She has brought a cake, which she says is particularly appropriate because Mercy’s featured guest this day is Laura Mills, Mercy nurse and diabetes educator. That gets a big laugh. The group lines up for lunch and cake and settles in to chat and play cards. Tornado recovery isn’t a top-of-mind topic, but Lett has a nice way of drawing out the women, simply by asking how they are doing with their five. Toni Johnson says she’s grateful for the lunches and sees them as part of Mercy’s continuum of care. After the tornado, Mercy caregivers at a walk-in clinic in town helped her overcome panic attacks. They helped her son through nightmares brought on as a result of being a first responder during the tornado. “I believe how they do things is all good,” she says. Lorene Kester, an octogenarian and Joplin resident since 1962, says that though the tornado isn’t talked about as it once

Joplin seniors welcome the chance to talk about their tornado experiences, but not until the hand is done.


was over the card games, the gathering is important. “Just getting out and making new friends is part of the healing,” she says. Across town on the same day, Mercy Chaplain Hahn prepares for a counseling session with Joplin teachers. Doug Walker from Mercy in New Orleans had helped develop the 12-week program and trained Hahn and other chaplains to administer it in Joplin. “We try to let people know everybody is going through this, too,” he says. “Teachers are saying it’s very beneficial to them. It equips them to do a better job but it also helps them to help others.” Hahn says he and his co-workers come well-equipped because of Mercy support: The ministry’s leaders told their co-workers they would rebuild and they would keep their paychecks. “That gave us an incentive. “We are secure. We want to help other people to be lifted up, to be encouraged and supported, too.”


Giving children an extra lift
Butterflies emerged as a recurring image for Joplin children processing the terror that descended on them in the tornado, and trying to understand why they survived. Word spread in the weeks and months after the storm about children who said they were helped or comforted by “butterfly people.” Sometimes, butterfly people wear hardhats. Ask Courtney Atkins, who felt a touch of grace extended by construction workers at the new Mercy hospital site on Joplin’s south side. The hospital is across the street from the two-bedroom frame house in which Atkins lives with her husband and their four children. Atkins is

Stories of butterfly people inspired a mural in downtown Joplin.


a student at Missouri Southern State University; her husband, Dustin, drives a city bus. Two of their children, London and Maddox, are 7-year-old twin boys with cerebral palsy. Maddox uses a wheelchair. Every afternoon, the school bus drops the twins in front of the house. Their mother would lift Maddox in his wheelchair the one step up to the front porch. London, meanwhile, would struggle up the step with the help of a railing. One winter day, Atkins lifted the wheelchair while carrying her 2-week-old baby. Watching from a nearby truck was Jason Wegner, a construction superintendent for McCarthy Building Cos., the St. Louis firm building the hospital. Later, Wegner approached Atkins. “I thought, ‘Here was a way to help somebody,’” he recalls. He asked Atkins if they could build a ramp up to the porch. She agreed. Wegner and three members of his crew spent two afternoons building the ramp.


Going home is a bit easier for the Atkins.

When they finished, Atkins was thrilled. “I was expecting just a little bitty ramp,’’ she says, adding that it’s more like a beautiful deck. The crew was on hand when London and Maddox came home that day, and saw the boys’ smiles when they climbed the ramp. “It was cool,” says Wegner, who gave the twins miniature hardhats. Atkins marvels at the crew’s generosity: “There are people who drive by every day, they don’t offer to help.” A short ramp may seem a little thing, but for London and Maddox, it’s huge. “They absolutely love it,” their mom says. She hopes Maddox can soon navigate a wheelchair up the ramp on his own. It could help foster the independence the parents encourage for the boys, so they can feel a little closer to being like every other child.


About this series
As the nation remembers the storm that ravaged Joplin in May 2011, Mercy has published a series of books on the events that changed the lives of so many in the community, and how the health ministry has responded. The books include this one, “Caring,” which explores how Mercy is supporting its co-workers while they attend to the needs of Joplin, and to each other. “Rebuilding” describes how Mercy has replaced the hospital destroyed in the tornado. In “Enduring,” Mercy captures stories of courage in the aftermath of the storm and looks ahead to Joplin's future. The works weave a story of past, present and future — and Mercy’s promise to value all three.




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