THE PHARMACY AT 45-BED MOORE MEDICAL CENTER in Oklahoma may be intact. On Wednesday, May 22, no one knew for sure. Moore’s former lead pharmacist, Barbara Poe, had not been able to return since she and pharmacy technician Kim Wedel left the pharmacy on May 20 in search of refuge from the oncoming tornado.
They eventually took cover under a desk in the postanesthesia care unit, using pillows and mattresses from gurneys for additional protection.
When they emerged, Poe said, “I looked to my left. Part of the building was gone.”
So, too, were the chairs that she had earlier kicked away from the desk.
And the auxiliary automated dispensing cabinet “was gone,” perhaps around the corner, Poe said.
No Place to Shelter
The maximum-strength tornado that tore through 17 miles of the Oklahoma City metropolitan area touched down at 2:45 p.m. CDT and ended at 3:35 p.m. CDT, according to the National Weather Service’s May 22 statement.
Poe, a lifelong Oklahoman, said she had been monitoring the weather since at least noon. At 1 p.m., when a local news channel’s noon broadcast ended, she had her computer display the weather radar. About half an hour later, the radar showed thunderstorms. Around 2 p.m., the meteorologists in Oklahoma City used the terms “the hook” and “well defined,” she said.
“This tornado blew up faster than any tornado I have ever seen in my life,” Poe said.
She didn’t hear the city’s tornado sirens or the hospital’s announcement of code black. Poe explained that was not unusual because of the pharmacy’s location on the first floor.
When the meteorologists instructed people to “get out of the way or get underground,” Poe said, she and Wedel left the pharmacy, which had no protective place for them.
Poe said they looked across the hall at the cafeteria and realized it was full, partly with hospital employees and partly with people from the community. Patients from the second floor had been moved to the first floor.
She said the next stop was the surgery area. The hospital did not have a basement.
After she and Wedel barricaded themselves under the desk in the postanesthesia care unit, Poe said perhaps 10 minutes passed. Then the electricity went out, something hit the building, there was a pause, and then she heard the sound of a train.
“And then,” she said, “it was as if there was a giant outside with a sledgehammer hitting the building.”
Meanwhile, Poe’s supervisor, Darin Smith, was in the incident command center at the 324-bed flagship of three-hospital Norman Regional Health System, less than 10 miles from Moore.
Smith, the health system’s assistant director for pharmacy services and performance improvement, said the group in the command center had been monitoring the path of the tornado.
Early information suggested that the tornado had not hit Moore Medical Center, Smith said. So he, his superior, who is the chief nursing officer, and the vice president responsible for the Moore campus drove together to the hospital with the goal to help the staff resume operations.
On the way, Smith said, they realized “the hospital had taken a direct strike.”
Setting Up Triage
The drive to the small hospital probably took more than an hour because traffic had backed up, he recalled. All the while, the group tried texting and calling Moore’s staff members.
“By the time we had arrived, all the patients and most of the employees, if not all of them, were already out of the building and they had set up a triage area at an adjacent building next door,” Smith said.
That building, the Moore Warren Theater, is what television viewers probably saw, he said, when they watched news footage of triage near the hospital.
No patients or staff members at Moore had injuries from the storm, the health system said.
Smith said his first sighting at the theater was of Wedel. She said Poe was OK and pointed in her general direction.
“I was quite in shock, a little bit,” he said. “I wasn’t expecting to walk up and see the building totally devastated. . . . I was expecting to be able to walk in and help Barbara and kind of get things going.”
The smell of gasoline from the destroyed vehicles and natural gas from broken pipes “was pretty overpowering,” he said. There was concern about the potential for an explosion.
In addition to the gasoline and natural gas leaks, the oxygen storage tank sitting outside the pharmacy on the hospital’s exterior was leaking. Poe said she learned of that leak when she tried to return to the pharmacy after leaving the postanesthesia care unit.
Smith said Moore’s pharmacy staff, which included a pharmacist who worked the seven-days on, seven-days off schedule opposite Poe, now reports for work at Norman Regional.
“Right now, Barbara has a lot of work to do,” he said.
Where to Begin to Pick Up the Pieces?
There are controlled substances at Moore to count and remove, Smith said. The whereabouts of the automated dispensing cabinets on the hospital’s second floor, where the nursing units had been, must be determined. Steps must be taken to close the pharmacy. Whether that closure is permanent or just temporary has not been decided, he said.
Poe, whose vehicle was damaged by the tornado, is not the only member of Smith’s staff who lost property.
The tornadoes that hit the area on Sunday destroyed a pharmacy technician’s house, Smith said. His department assistant lucked out in that her house is still standing despite the tornadoes tearing up her treed yard and damaging neighbors’ houses.
“We’ve had a tremendous outpouring” of concern from pharmacists across the country, he said. “It does give you a very good feeling of how close-knit and really how caring I think our profession is.”
On Wednesday, Poe and Smith said they were working on helping to meet the future needs of residents in Moore. Earlier in the day they had delivered albuterol inhalers, ceftriaxone injection, and a few other items that had been requested by Heart to Heart International for its mobile medical unit in Moore, Poe said.
Before choosing to work at Moore, Poe had been the pharmacy director at Norman Regional. She was a member of the ASHP Council on Administrative Affairs when it proposed the initial policy position on emergency preparedness in 1999.
Poe, who still remembers the sight of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City immediately after the bombing in 1995, said she was the council member who proposed the policy topic.
–By Cheryl Thompson; reprinted with permission from ASHP News