June 5, 2012

Joplin: One Year Later: Tracy Clark Remembers

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Tracy Clark was home in Neosho, Mo., about 20 miles south of nearby Joplin, when the tornado hit.

The director of health information for Mercy Hospital Joplin watched on the local news and The Weather Channel as the reports rolled in, detailing that more than 150 local residents were dead, more than 900 injured. Thankfully, Clark's daughter wasn't among them; she had been at a wedding in Joplin that day and called to tell the family she was going to drive across town to see her boyfriend when they were able to warn her to leave.

"I spent the evening and night trying to contact all my staff. It took until Tuesday to account for everyone, as phone service was out in many areas," Clark recalled last week, which marked the one-year anniversary of when one of the deadliest storms in U.S. history struck. "Two of my staff lost their homes, several had damage and one was eating dinner at ... Pizza Hut with her grandchildren (when the tornado hit). They were all picked up and thrown several hundred yards."

The woman and her grandson were in the hospital for several weeks, but they all survived. Once the hospital staff was accounted for, Clark recalled, it was time to start picking up the pieces.

"I was involved in the record recovery somewhat. Mercy had a contract in place with a recovery company, and they were on site within the first few days and started retrieving all documents out of the facility," Clark said. "Since we had gone live on our EMR on May 1, we had very few paper records left in our department. The recovery for us was mainly our microfilm and microfiche. All these records had to be cleaned."

The first truckload of cleaned documents and film arrived back in January; the hospital now has a warehouse set up where workers are going through them all.

"It's a tedious process, and will be ongoing for at least another 6-8 months," Clark said. "We got all of our microfilm and microfiche back in the first few loads and have it all organized and have all our outstanding requests fulfilled."

The hospital's EMR and its previous system, which housed records dating back to July 2005, were both back up and running locally just four days after the tornado struck thanks to what Clark labeled a stellar performance by the IT department. The four days on which the hospital didn't have local access, its sister facility in nearby Springfield did.

"They actually printed out all 183 records of the patients in the facility at the time of the tornado so they were ready to be sent to whichever facility they ended up at," Clark recalled. "So we really didn't lose any records except for a few old X-ray films that were stored on the top floor. They were able to retrieve these as well, and we are in the process of going through all those now too."

Mercy's temporary hospital now has most of its previously offered services available there, and Clark's department is housed in a strip mall a few miles away, where they've been since late July. They'll remain there until the new permanent facility opens in 2015.

"The day after the tornado, we set up a command center and our department table at the convention center, where we worked until we got this building refurbished and furnished with over 100 cubicles for staff from 19 different departments," Clark explained. "I also have staff working at other facilities, as our volumes don't provide enough work for everyone."

"It's been a wild ride," Clark concluded, "but we all see light at the end of the tunnel now."

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Mark Spivey is a correspondent for the RACmonitor.com

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Mark Spivey

Mark Spivey is a national correspondent for RACmonitor and ICD10monitor who has been editing and writing reports for the websites for eight years.

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