Extreme Weather: Defending Data in Disaster

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When the deadly tornado ravaged St. John’s Regional Medical Center in Joplin, Mo., back in May, carrying hospital contents along its deadly path, Mercy’s Electronic Health Record was unscathed and accessible – immediately.

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President and CEO of Sisters of Mercy Health System, Lynn Britton, on left, joins in a tour of the Data Center in Washington, MO. Electronic health records from St. John's Joplin.

Whether it's a tornado, hurricane or the blistering heat - anything that could wreak havoc on an institution - Mercy has planned for it.

EF-5 twisters. A record-setting 108 degrees in Oklahoma City. Floodwaters shattering all-time levels along the Missouri and Mississippi rivers.

2011’s wicked weather has put emergency response teams and newly implemented technology to the test, including Mercy’s electronic health record (EHR). When the deadly tornado ravaged St. John’s Regional Medical Center in Joplin, Mo., back in May, carrying hospital contents along its deadly path, Mercy’s EHR was unscathed and accessible – immediately.

“What we discovered was electronic health records were a lifeline for our patients, medical team and community,” said Will Showalter, Mercy’s chief information officer. “Though our building was gone, our data was still there and immediately accessible.”

A federally mandated electronic conversion of patients’ health records was instituted in 2009, but Mercy was ahead of the curve, beginning the transition in 2005 with a $450 million investment. Such forward thinking has resulted in national attention. Just this week, the Sisters of Mercy Health System was named Health Care’s “Most Wired” by the American Hospital Association, an honor recognizing hospitals for adoption, implementation and use of information technology.

Mindful of natural disasters and other threats to system security, Mercy also invested $60 million in a high-tech data center – built to withstand tornado-force winds and constructed in an area removed from earthquake fault lines. The facility, sitting on a bedrock foundation in Washington, Mo., has access to alternate sources of power and a network capable of transferring the entire contents of the Library of Congress in less than 6.5 seconds.

“Whether it’s a tornado, hurricane or the blistering heat – anything that could wreak havoc on an institution – Mercy has planned for it,” said Showalter. “But nothing makes you completely prepared for something like the disaster in Joplin.”

Mercy – Sisters of Mercy Health System – is the eighth largest Catholic health care system in the U.S. and serves more than 3 million people annually. Mercy includes 28 hospitals, more than 200 outpatient facilities, 36,000 co-workers and 1,400 integrated physicians in Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri and Oklahoma. Mercy also has outreach ministries in Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas. For more about Mercy, visit http://www.mercy.net.

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