Hospital earns Storm Ready rating

By Bryn Stole, Staff Writer, Greenwood Commonwealth

Greenwood Leflore Hospital has been recognized by the National Weather Service for its tornado preparation efforts.

On Friday, the hospital became the 10th in Mississippi to receive the weather service’s Storm Ready certification.
The distinction comes after nearly a year of meticulous planning, during which hospital officials went through their emergency procedures and preparations.

Stephen Wilkinson, warning coordination meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Jackson, said the hospital’s paperwork and plans were already “about 90 percent there” when the hospital begin the application to receive the certification.

Over the course of the yearlong application process, the hospital upgraded some of its weather alert systems, including adding a text message alert from the National Weather Service, said Sandy Fink, the hospital’s chief safety officer.

“We did make sure we have somebody 24 hours a day who can get those messages and knows what to do,” Fink said. “A lot of it was already in place; we just had to formalize it a little more.”

Wilkinson, who oversees the program in the National Weather Service’s Jackson service area, said the program was launched about three years ago after a tornado devastated Joplin, Mo., in 2011, killing 158 and severely damaging St. John’s Regional Medical Center in the city.

More recently and closer to home, Wilkinson said the need to focus on emergency procedures for hospitals was underscored when an April 28 tornado hit Louisville and destroyed the Winston County Medical Center.
In earning the Storm Ready designation, Wilkinson said, the hospital has demonstrated its dedication to keeping its patients and employees safe — and to being ready to respond to a disaster in the community.

“It’s a recognition of what they’re doing,” Wilkinson said. “It’s not going to prevent something from happening — if a tornado is going to hit, it’s going to hit — but hopefully you’ve got everything in place to respond.”

Wilkinson said hospitals are in a unique situation when preparing for a tornado. Critically ill or incapacitated patients are difficult to move to shelter, and taking them off medical machines can be dangerous.

Should a tornado hit the hospital, Fink said, staff must  be able to begin treating incoming patients from the surrounding community, even if the hospital’s facilities are damaged or destroyed.

It’s a complex set of problems, and Jim Jackson, the hospital’s administrator, said the Storm Ready designation was an accomplishment for the entire hospital.

“I think we should all take pride in being able to show that we want to provide for the safety of our patients, our community and our staff,” he said.