Mercy Joplin employees find closure in hospital's opening

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JOPLIN - Emergency Room Clinical Manager Libby Clark finally has the closure she needs.

After serving her community from the most makeshift of conditions following the deadly and devastating May 2011 tornado, Clark celebrated the opening of the Mercy Joplin Hospital Saturday.

"I think it will help us lay the tornado to rest finally. It's just the beginning of a new chapter," she said. "Everything in Joplin is rebuilding, but the hospital was still this gaping hole and now that's open I feel like it'll be a shot in the arm this community needs."

Thousands of community members joined hospital employees Saturday to celebrate the hospital's completion with an open house. Medical staff and Joplin residents reflected on the four-year rebuilding process as they walked through the nearly 900,000 square foot facility.

Like many of the current employees, Clark's story with Mercy dates back years before the EF-5 tornado tore through the city. Clark organized triage in the parking lot of a Home Depot the night of May 22, 2011. She said she remembered seeing light passing through the battered building as the sun began to set that night.

"You could see the building standing there and you shouldn't have been able to see that at that point. There should have been so much more between us, " she said. "That was the ‘my life is going to be different' point."

Two days after the tornado hit, Mercy promised to keep all 2,200 employees in a job. Mercy President and CEO Lynn Britton said Saturday illustrated "a promise kept."

Clark said she remembers hearing "if you can hear my voice, you still have a job and we're going to rebuild" as she treated the injured.

"I remember that today, with him saying that this is a promise kept. That was beautiful," Clark said.

The $465 million medical center features not only the very latest in medical technology, but also safety features to ensure its safety if a tornado were ever to hit the area again. The windows alone can withstand 250 mph winds.

The hospital will begin taking patients March 22.

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