JOPLIN, Mo. — When word of a tornado hitting Joplin made it to emergency service dispatch across Missouri, crews met at the Ozark Empire Fairgrounds then headed west in strike teams.
“I was mowing my yard, the phone went off, shut off the mower, and it was our dispatch center called to notify me,” said Bob Patterson, an executive director at Mercy EMS. “A pretty daunting phone call to get, you know, you repeat that information and they tell you we think our hospital’s been destroyed.”
From the inside of Mercy Hospital in minutes of following the tornado, it was nurses like Kevin Kepley who waded through debris to evacuate patients.
“You could look out the window and just see the path of destruction,” said Kepley. “And my heart sank because I knew that we needed to help our people, be we also knew there were people that were really in bad shape out there.”
Patterson took charge of the regional response while some ambulances in Greene County were already on their way.
“That was a bit challenging because the storms were still spinning off from the original tornado and that storm cycle,” said Patterson. “So, the highways were difficult, there were trees down, power poles down, trucks flipped.”
Miranda Lewis, a former Mercy media relations coordinator, said she is proud of the role Mercy played in helping the people impacted by the Joplin tornado.
“You know, you go through some of your best of times and worst of times in a hospital,” said Lewis. “And so, I love the fact that they’ve kept the monuments and the statues and the care that they took to preserve what was here. And all of the lives that have come and gone over the years, on, on this ground.”
Patterson said the tornado made Missouri change its entire emergency response plan.