By Joy Hampton
The Norman Transcript
MOORE — The foundation of Moore Medical Center’s temporary facility went up Tuesday, and Norman Regional Health officials said the new emergency and outpatient center should be operational by Dec. 2.
A modular structure is being constructed on a corner of the site of the former hospital. That temporary emergency department, lab and outpatient services will serve the community while a permanent facility is designed and built.
“The structure goes up very fast,” said Brian Johnson, president of Johnson Portables, the Michigan company hired to construct the modular unit.
Johnson also is responsible for the construction of the temporary hospital in Joplin, Mo., following the tornado that hit that city in 2011.
“We are ahead of schedule right now,” Johnson said. “We anticipate being through with the structure in about two weeks.”
The interior finishes — including plumbing, electric and HVAC — is a slower process, but Johnson anticipates delivering the completed building to hospital authorities by Nov. 14. At that point, the site will be finished with furniture, beds and medical equipment.
“The city of Moore has been very helpful in facilitating our permitting and keeping the process moving,” said Richie Splitt, chief administrative officer of Moore Medical Center and the HealthPlex Hospital.
Moore Medical Center is one of several Norman Regional Hospital sites. When the tornado hit the hospital May 20, more than 400 people — many of them members of the public who stopped to take shelter there — survived with only minor injuries.
“I just couldn’t believe we were in there, and we all walked out,” said Nick Stremble, RN. Stremble is the nurse manager of the previous MMC site and the new site.
“We worked with our plant operation director to help set the interior layout,” he said. “I’m excited. It’s been a long journey from May 20.”
When the tornado hit Moore Medical, Stremble was on duty.
“My responsibility as a manager was to make sure everyone was safe,” he said.
Staff followed the hospital’s tornado plan to move patients and take shelter in the building’s interior.
“We knew where we were supposed to be, and we got them there,” Stremble said.
The team had practiced the plan many times. Weather reports that morning alerted staff to the possible danger, and Moore Medical employees ran through the tornado plan again in preparation.
“We have our own internal alerts and they had been going out all morning,” he said.
When the news came that the tornado was on the ground and headed their direction, the staff sprang into action.
“There was a lot of apprehension,” Stremble said. “You could tell something was about to happen.”
When the pressure shifted making people’s ears pop, the gravity of the situation became apparent.
“It got quiet,” he said
After the tornado blew through, nurses looked to help anyone who was hurt.
“I need to know if you’re hurt,” Stremble said he called out.
There were bumps, bruises, scrapes and cuts but no serious injuries.
“It was definitely a relief,” he said.
Stremble and his staff tried to execute the evacuation plan, but debris was blocking the front entrance.
He crawled out the front entrance and saw a fire truck arriving. He flagged down emergency responders and directed them to the back of the building where they helped people out of the debris.
For Stremble, it was another few hours before things slowed down enough for him to see and absorb that the tornado had laid waste to the hospital. At that moment, the value of the tornado plan and preparation became crystal clear, he said.
On Tuesday, Dr. Robin Mantooth surveyed the foundation for the temporary facility along with Stremble and Emergency Services Director Gail Grego.
While Mantooth and Grego were not on the scene when the tornado hit, both remember the relief they felt at learning patients, employees and those who took shelter at Moore Medical were safe.
While the modular building being constructed by Johnson Portables is temporary, it is the beginning of the recovery and healing process for employees and the Moore community.
“It’s really nice,” Mantooth said. “We’ve been waiting for this for a few months. Now we can see some progress.”
NRHS CEO David Whitaker said helping physicians relocate and connecting people with their doctors was the first step after the tornado. For the time being, the HealthPlex and the NRHS Porter campus are serving people previously served at Moore Medical.
Most of the health system’s loss due to the tornado will be buffered by insurance coverage, which will pay for building replacement, equipment and content replacement and business interruption.
“The majority of the employees have transitioned to other departments,” Whitaker said. “When this site opens up, most of that emergency department staff will transfer back to Moore.”
Splitt said the staff and physicians who served the Moore community in the past will continue to do so at the new, temporary site.
An emergency room physician, Mantooth is ready to be back in Moore.
“This was my hospital, these were my people,” Mantooth said.