Texas County Memorial Hospital broke ground Thursday on a project CEO Wes Murray says is “vitally important to our community.”

About 100 people gathered on the south side of the hospital campus to break ground on a new tornado safe room and surgery department. The groundbreaking was held in the same area where the original wing of the hospital was built in 1958.

The original wing, referred to as the “south wing,” was torn down earlier this year to make way for additional construction of new patient care areas. The tornado safe room portion of this construction will be complete in November 2014.

“This is a very unique day for us,” Murray said. “Because of our strategic plan, these two dreams came together, and they share the same high importance.”

TCMH was the first hospital in the state to receive funds from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to build a tornado safe room. Although TCMH had applied for the funds prior to the tornado that hit Joplin in 2011, the funds from FEMA were awarded just a few weeks later.

“Twenty-nine tornados have been recorded in Texas County since 1950, and eight of those tornadoes were in the past five years,” Murray said.

Murray noted that since the founding of TCMH thousands of patients have “committed their confidence in our facility. In the past five years, 8,626 surgical procedures have been performed at TCMH.

“These projects are both vitally important to our community,” Murray said.

Omanez Fockler, chairperson of the TCMH board of trustees and longtime former nurse at TCMH, recalled hearing of a tornado in the area while working in the hospital. She remembers running to the south wing of the hospital, and watching the tornado pass by, hitting a building under construction on Holder Drive.

“No one could have forecasted the changes that we were going to see in healthcare,” Fockler said.

Fockler explained that when TCMH first began doing surgeries, removal of a gallbladder required a large incision and a two-week stay in the hospital –– if there were no complications. Today, a gallbladder removal is a same-day surgery with a speedy recovery.

“We must stay current and prepare for the future,” Fockler said, reminding the TCMH employees present that each of them are an integral part of the healthcare team.

“Healthcare is not for the faint of heart. It’s more than a job,” Fockler said. “In working together for the best possible outcome, you will find many years from now that your satisfaction will be in the difference you made.”

Dr. Charles Mueller, chief to the TCMH surgery department, echoed Fockler’s sentiments about working toward a common goal together.

“A lot of hard work has gone into making this happen,” Mueller said. “I would like to thank everyone for their hard work and professionalism.”

Murray also spoke of the 310 businesses and individuals that donated $1.9 million to the TCMH Healthcare Foundation’s “Care for Your Future” capital campaign for the project. He recognized members of the Healthcare Foundation’s steering committee by name thanking them for going door to door in asking for funds for the project.

“This structure will protect lives and improve the living conditions in Texas County,” said Jeff Korman, compliance specialist with the Missouri department of economic development. “We are happy to be a part of this.”

Bill Ransdall, community planning and development specialist, was in attendance as the state designee for the Delta Region Authority from the Governor’s Office.

“We are glad to support Texas County,” he said.

Murray also thanked the City of Houston and South Central Ozark Council of Governments for their involvement in helping TCMH obtain funds through some public entities for the project.

“We will continue to raise funds to see this project through in its entirety,” Murray said, explaining that tax credits were available as well as the opportunity to donate.

TCMH received $562,500 from FEMA for the tornado safe room project in 2011. TCMH has requested additional funds from FEMA to assist in covering additional costs of building the structure since the original request for funds. TCMH also received a $298,400 community development block grant and $250,000 in tax credits to be sold toward the project in order to raise $500,000. The Care for Your Future capital campaign has received $910,000 in cash donations and additional pledges have been made through 2017.

The tornado safe room will be completed in November 2014. TCMH will continue to raise funds for the interior portions of the new surgery department. By next fall the surgery department will be a shell that will connect the tornado safe room with the current hospital via corridors. The new corridors will access the current hospital, the tornado safe room, and the hospital wing the currently houses the surgery, obstetrics and intensive care departments.

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