Coping with Two Devastating Tornadoes in One Decade

Marshalltown cardiology clinic destroy by EF3 tornado in July, 2018.

UnityPoint Health – Waterloo CEO Pam DelagardelleNot again, I thought to myself. No one thinks they will experience a devastating tornado twice in their lifetime—but that’s exactly what happened. Ten years ago, I led a hospital near Parkersburg through a deadly twister, and today, I’m the CEO guiding UnityPoint Health – Marshalltown after a EF3 tornado recently impacted our community.

When the tornado hit, I was getting ready for a staff meeting in Waterloo. I received a text message from a colleague who told me about the twister, and I quickly flipped on the television. I tried to get ahold of the leadership team in Marshalltown, but received no response. After what seemed like forever, details rolled in and things got real—fast.

I issued a disaster code, beckoning help from medical professionals at other nearby UnityPoint Health locations, and they answered immediately. I was amazed and thankful for the number of doctors from Des Moines, Waterloo and surrounding areas who either hopped in their cars and drove to nearby Grundy Center to help, or went straight to the emergency room at Marshalltown.

UnityPoint Health – Waterloo CEO, Pam Delagardelle, at incident command after Marshalltown tornado strikes.We made the tough, but necessary, decision to transfer over 40 patients from Marshalltown to other locations, so I put in a call to request as many ambulances as possible. Forty-three ambulances later lined up outside our hospital, as evidence of small counties, some multiple counties away, giving up their primary resources to support us.

A patient experience representative was in Marshalltown for a training and took it upon herself to check on patients huddling in the cramped, dark, hot hospital hallway. She came across a 90-year-old woman taking cover. The elderly woman was frightened and said, “Honey, I’ve lived a long time, and I don’t want to die in a tornado. Will you hold my hand?” Our UnityPoint Health team member knelt by her wheel chair and held her hand until the danger passed.

nullIt’s been almost a month since the tornado struck, and we’re finding our new “normal.” Our hospital is operational again, and other facilities are getting the help they need to rebuild or exist in new locations. Nearby businesses and community groups have stepped up to donated items like food and supportive notes as our very exhausted staff has worked extra hours to regroup. Soon, it’ll be time to gather our learnings, change processes and look at workflows just in case Mother Nature decides to put us to the test a third time.

When I stop to think about everything that’s happened, it makes me emotional—in a good way. This experience reminded me of the true meaning of “amazing,” and I’m so proud of how we kept our heads up and our patients safe. These are the moments that bring the fast pace of life to a screeching halt. These are the moments that define who we are as individuals, who we are as friends and family members and who we are as a community. And these are the moments when we can step up to show people how much they matter.

 -Pam Delagardelle, CEO of UnityPoint Health – Waterloo

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