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Mission Moments: colleagues reflect on one-year anniversary of Tennessee tornadoes

Building damaged by tornado

This week marks one year since Middle Tennessee was hit with a deadly outbreak of seven tornadoes that left a 100-mile path of destruction from Nashville to Cookeville, Tennessee. In one of the strongest storms the country has seen in years, dozens of buildings were obliterated, 25 lives were lost and more than 300 were left injured.

Headquartered in Nashville, HCA Healthcare has deep roots in Middle Tennessee, with more than 50 years of history providing lifesaving care to the community. Our Nashvillian colleagues quickly mobilized, and though shaken, stood ready to treat tornado victims and help neighbors in need. Below, a few HCA Healthcare colleagues share how they weathered the storm, leaning on dedication, teamwork and the #NashvilleStrong spirit…

On the night of March 2 and into the early morning hours of March 3, 2020, an EF3 tornado barreled through HCA Healthcare’s hometown of Nashville, Tennessee, snapping power poles in half and leaving homes, music venues and churches in ruins. A stronger E4 tornado touched down further East.

“I remember it vividly,” said Brian Marger, chief executive officer at HCA Healthcare’s TriStar Summit Medical Center. “I was at home watching the news and saw that Middle Tennessee was preparing for nasty weather, which is nothing new for Middle Tennessee. At 11:30 p. m., I started talking with the house supervisor at TriStar Summit, and we realized this wasn’t going to be our typical storm.”

“The tornado came within 50 yards of the hospital, and a whole path of homes adjacent to our hospital were just gone,” Brian reflects.

HCA Healthcare colleagues at TriStar Summit Medical Center began receiving nearby victims.

A group of hospital caregivers hold hands and bow their heads around a table
(March 2020) Caregivers at TriStar Summit Medical Center gather for a moment of silence.

“They tell you to prepare for the worst in the ER, but I truly didn’t know what the worst could be,” said Katelyn Clark, an emergency room nurse at TriStar Summit Medical Center. “It was a very stressful night, but everybody comes together during very trying times.”

Katelyn and her team took care of 34 tornado victims. “I am extremely proud of our team every day I work with them, but the night of the tornadoes, I could not have been more proud,” she adds.

A group of hospital caregivers posing for a photo
In March 2020, TriStar Summit Medical Center chief executive officer, Brian Marger stated: “We are fortunate for our dedicated caregivers who continue to care for patients during and after the storm. Though a storm of this magnitude has tested the resolve of the communities we serve, we stand united in its recovery and committed to our patients and people in the days ahead.”

Standing ready in times of need

Over the years, HCA Healthcare has stood ready to help our communities respond to natural disasters such as wildfires, earthquakes, tornadoes and storms, as well as man-made crises like major car accidents and mass shootings.

A man wearing a suit looks at a map on a large screen while another man works on a computer nearby
HCA Healthcare’s Emergency Operations Center, located in Nashville, Tennessee, helped TriStar Health facilities respond to the March 2020 tornadoes.

With planning and preparation we are able to stay at the ready to respond to emergencies. Teams operating out of regional offices and our HCA Healthcare’s Emergency Operations Center (EEOC) in Nashville, Tennessee, participate in regular drills and full-scale disaster exercises so we can deploy when needed.

“We prepare every day for various types of disasters,” explained Michael Wargo, vice president and chief of emergency preparedness and emergency operations at HCA Healthcare. With the threat of possible nocturnal tornadoes, Michael and his team established a chain of communication with TriStar Health and began to initiate preparedness measures.

The EEOC deployed large generators, ice trucks and water trucks in order to ensure the hospital had everything needed to provide safe patient care without interruption during the tornadoes.

“All of the senior leaders came in, and everybody went into action mode and figured out what we needed to do to continue to ensure safe patient care during this time of crisis, as well as take care of our colleagues,” Brian said.

Large generator in parking lot
A generator pictured outside of TriStar Summit Medical Center, filled with thousands of gallons of fuel, helped the hospital regain power in the wake of the March 2020 tornadoes.

Rebuilding Tennessee: holding on to hope

The HCA Healthcare Hope Fund—an employee-run, employee-supported 501(c)(3) charity that provides financial aid and resources to employees after extended illness, injury, disaster or other special situations—provided grants to HCA Healthcare colleagues impacted by the tornadoes.

“After the tornado, we recognized there was a unique opportunity to reach out to our colleagues in need by going directly to where there were,” said Joe Flynn, president of the HCA Healthcare Hope Fund.

The HCA Healthcare Hope Fund was able to help more than 70 colleagues affected by the tornadoes by providing more than $40,000 in grants. “We are able to come together through the Hope Fund and help each other, with colleagues giving and colleagues receiving. It’s a wonderful model and one of the best parts of working at HCA Healthcare.”

Across the state, HCA Healthcare colleagues participating in the relief efforts by volunteering time and resources to help those affected.

“It’s very important for us to come together as a community, as families, as friends,” said Alicia Fleming, a benefits compliance analyst with HCA Healthcare who volunteered to help with storm cleanup.

Alecia reflects on showing up to help her community in its greatest time of need:

“It was an experience that I will never forget. The crew I was with spent the day cleaning up one of the hardest hit areas in Mt. Juliet and a couple that lived on the street had died as a result of the tornado. When we arrived at the site, you could have heard a pin drop, but we all kept our emotions in check.

While cleaning up, we started talking with some of the families. Their stories were unbelievable, and brought you to tears.

One of the things that I found that brought the families some joy were pictures. I was excited that I could bring them just a little bit of happiness by putting pictures in a Ziploc bag for the families to go through. I found one couple’s wedding picture.

Another day, I took food and water to Rutland Baptist Church to help with their clean up (my great grandfather and great uncle both pastored at the church).”

“The only thing that comes to mind is TriStar Summit truly cares like family”

Brian Marger, CEO at TriStar Summit Medical Center

One year later, Nashville – a place where many of our colleagues call home – has also weathered  the COVID-19 pandemic, a derecho, one of the harshest winter storms in recent history and a devastating Christmas Day bombing.

Nashville Mayor John Cooper said, “It’s been Nashville’s hardest year.” Businesses are still rebuilding, people still healing, and hospitals still feeling the impact of COVID-19.

Through it all, our remarkable colleagues continue to show up, ready to care for and improve human life.

About HCA Healthcare

HCA Healthcare, one of the nation's leading providers of healthcare services, is comprised of 186 hospitals and more than 2,000 sites of care, in 20 states and the United Kingdom. Our approximately 275,000 colleagues are connected by a single purpose — to give patients healthier tomorrows.

As an enterprise, we recognize the significant responsibility we have as a leading healthcare provider within each of the communities we serve, as well as the opportunity we have to improve the lives of the patients for whom we are entrusted to care. Through the compassion, knowledge and skill of our caregivers, and our ability to leverage our scale and innovative capabilities, HCA Healthcare is in a unique position to play a leading role in the transformation of care.

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