Closing the Gap: Sharkey- Issaquena Community Hospital works to rebuild after building sustained major damage from twister

Published: May. 16, 2023 at 11:21 PM CDT
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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - It is hard to forget the devastation left behind when the EF-4 Twister touchdown in Rolling Fork back in March.

That twister all but destroyed the town, and the only hospital there was also left in shambles.

Keep in mind this small community hospital serves some of the poorest counties in the state.

In this new Fox 40 special called Closing the Gap, we talk with those who own, operate, and use the hospital for emergencies and why they are now hoping the hospital gets the lifeline it needs to survive this storm.

“We had to remove all of our ceiling towels. All the contractors were here trying to get dried out because all of it was wet,” Brantley Person said.

Brantley Person is the director of nursing. He says the beating the Sharkey-Issaquena Community Hospital took back in March is unbelievable and unimaginable.

“It was heartbreaking, [and] it was sad. My team was doing all it could to help save all these lives.”

While the hospital staff was able to get all patients to safety, they were not able to save the building from widespread devastation.

“There is a lot of damage through the hospital. For example, in the patient’s room where water came from under the window, and it is on the floor. Also, you have the brown spots, and the ceiling leaked.”

Similar scenes can be found in the hallways, the children’s unit, and the emergency room.

“This is one of our ER rooms. During the tornado, we had a lot of roof damage, and we took on a good bit of water. You can see by the brown spots in the lights and on the floor, and we were still trying to treat patients.”

“I am saddened by the fact that we are down,” said Jerry Keever, the CEO and administrator of the hospital.

He says they are still assessing the damage and admits the facility doesn’t look good.

The University of Mississippi Medical Center teamed up with the State Department of Health and MEMA to deploy a mobile field hospital. It is now set up at the Rolling Fork Civic Center.

“We are still serving our community. We have the mobile hospital that you see here, and we got the set up quickly,” Keever said.

Mayor Eldridge Walker of Rolling Fork says it was a no brainier to set up shop after learning about the blow the only main health care center took back in March.

“I cannot say how important it is. It is a necessity,” said Walker.

Right now, it serves as a temporary close to the gap in healthcare in both Sharkey and Issaquena Counties.

Leaders understand it’s a short-term fix to a long-term problem in the rural area where many hospitals and patients suffer because of their zip code.

“We are 45 minutes from any other hospital if you get injured,” said Keever.

“Local senior citizens who don’t have transportation, it is much easier for them to get here,” said Walker.

“We do 40 to 60 ambulance runs a month. The economic impact of the hospital, if we lost it, would be devastating,” said Keever.

The Sharkey-Issaquena is a stand-alone hospital meaning it is not affiliated with a larger medical facility, and that equals fewer resources.

“I want the facility to be better than it was,” said Keever. We have 1947, and part of it was built in 1973, and it has been renovated over the years. We want to be up to code and up to the new standard for a hospital. We would love to see a new hospital if that is possible.”

As far as funding, the town welcomes any assistance to keep these vital emergency services in this rural area.

“Absolutely, we depend on our state, local and federal officials. Without their help, we’re not going to be able to get it done. There’s no way without the political help and funding that comes from the federal and state government. We wouldn’t be able to rebuild and repair the facility because insurance only carries us so far,” said Keever.

With a town that has lost so much already, they are praying and pushing to get a bigger and better medical facility to continue to provide critical healthcare for everyone who lives in Rolling Fork.

“We need to have an operable hospital by all means,” Walker said.

“This hospital saves lives every year. There are people walking around today who would not be alive without this facility. This hospital has saved a lot of lives, and we want to be here to continue to do that,” Keever said.

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