Hospital Board Receives News of a “Tornado Safe Room” Possibility in Future Hospital Construction

Texas County Memorial Hospital has received approval for a 4,000 square foot tornado safe room and $562,500 in funding for the room from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), hospital board members heard at their monthly meeting on Tuesday.

In August 2009, TCMH submitted a “notice of interest” to FEMA indicating the hospital’s interest in putting a tornado safe room on the hospital’s campus that could also be used as meeting or waiting space. After FEMA reviewed the notice, TCMH was invited to submit a formal application, which was done in June 2010.

“We are the only hospital in the state that applied for a tornado safe room,” Wes Murray, chief executive officer, said.

The tornado safe room project totaled $897,000, and $750,000 of that project was FEMA approved. FEMA does not cover expenses for some parts of tornado safe room projects such as the heating and air conditioning or more than one bathroom. FEMA will cover 75 percent of the approved portion of building which totals $562,500 for the TCMH tornado safe room project.

TCMH has applied for a one-year extension with FEMA for the tornado safe room project.

“Now that we have the main hospital expansion going, we aren’t able to move forward on the FEMA tornado safe room for at least one year,” Murray explained, “But after we get our new medical surgical wing built, this space would fit very nicely into the timeline.”

Murray also explained that the tornado safe room is a “pretty big opportunity” for TCMH.

“We have known all along that the planned expansion and remodeling project would only satisfy a portion of our patient care needs,” Murray said.

The tornado safe room construction could be tied in with a potential “phase 3” for the hospital to also renovate surgery, obstetrics and intensive care—patient care areas of the hospital that are not being addressed with the current planned construction and renovation.

“Everyone has been touched by the recent disasters across our state, which makes a space like this even more important for our hospital and our community,” Murray said.

The tornado safe room would be located at the South end of the hospital, and the South wing of the hospital would be removed to accommodate the room. Plans were in place to eliminate use for the South wing as a patient care area after the hospital’s new medical surgical floor was built in the proposed expansion.

The tornado safe room would accommodate 462 people which could include patients in wheelchairs or beds as well as members of the community and hospital staff.

TCMH officials should receive formal word for the project extension within a month or two.

“I’m not yet sure if we will be able to add this tornado safe room to our planned construction, but this is another big opportunity for us,” Murray said.

Murray also filled board members in on the hospital’s current expansion and renovation project which is very close to beginning.

Currently, all of the construction bids were awaiting verification and approval by the USDA which is providing a low-interest loan for the $18.1 million project.

“After the lowest qualified bid is determined, the USDA will verify the bids and they will be awarded,” Murray said, adding, “The next step will be to close on all loan documents.”

The loan documents must also be signed by the Texas County Commissioners for the project to officially begin.

TCMH continues to work on easements with the neighbors surrounding the hospital. These involve placing a new sewer line under Highway 63 that connects with the city’s new sewer line on Thomasville Road.

“We have had the pleasure of working with Mr. Steve Hutcheson and the property he owns across from the hospital,” Murray said. Hutcheson Pharmacy, MFA and other properties will tie into the new sewer line which will replace an aged city sewer line.

TCMH has not been able to obtain a storm water easement from the Houston Wal-Mart Supercenter.

“It’s not that Wal-Mart wouldn’t work with us,” Murray said, “They are just such a large corporation with so many layers and engineers that it could take several months to come to any agreement with them.”

A small, planned storm water retention pond located at the back of the hospital property, near Wal-Mart will collect storm water runoff from the hospital. The water will then be diverted in a controlled manner from the back of the hospital to the front of the hospital property.

Similarly, TCMH has not been able to reach an agreement with Pizza Express regarding temporarily re-routing traffic through the Pizza Express driveway for a portion of the construction.

“Holy Cross Lutheran Church was happy to work with TCMH to route hospital and clinic traffic from the TCMH South entrance by their church,” Murray said. “Unfortunately, Pizza Express would not allow us to use their driveway without paying a substantial fee.”

Murray noted that TCMH was planning to do any repairs or maintenance as needed during the use of the driveway, but an agreement could not be reached.

“This will be a significant inconvenience to the clinic patients and to our hospital staff, but we will find a different way to route traffic,” Murray said. The hospital’s South driveway will only be closed for up to 10 months.

Murray noted that the “Texas County” landmark sign has been removed from the turnaround area in front of TCMH and is currently in the possession of the Texas County Commissioners.

“The sign will be restored and placed on the grounds of the Justice Center where it can be accessed by everyone,” Murray said.

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