Avera Medical Minute: Staff counts blessings on tornado anniversary

Published: Sep. 10, 2020 at 11:15 PM CDT
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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (Dakota News Now) - The September 10, 2019 tornado left a wake of destruction at neighboring Avera Heart Hospital and Avera Behavioral health.

Two buildings, two leaders, both credit their staff.

Assistant Vice President of Avera Behavioral Health Tom Otten was coming out of deep sleep when he received a call describing the tornado.

“We’ve been hit was all this staff member said. Like you were in a bouncy house I mean the building was shaking,” said Otten.

Twisted metal and shattered glass greeted Avera Heart Hospital President and CEO Mick Gibbs when he arrived just minutes after the tornado ripped through the hospital. He had one question.

“Were my people and were our patients safe?” said Gibbs.

Staff arrived from their homes.

“People just voluntarily showed up and put their own safety in jeopardy,” said Gibbs.

The entire team at Avera cared for patients and each other.

“Several patients had commented to me, over the course of that night and well beyond that night, how wonderful the staff was in keeping them calm,” said Otten.

Staff marveled that an emergency heart procedure was successfully completed while the Tornado was on top of the building.

“The building shook yet, the staff and the doctors had such calm composure,” said Gibbs.

Local neighbors came to help. It created a life-long impact.

The silver lining, a staff closer than ever, and gratitude that no lives were lost.

“The intensity of the storm was significant, but it was no match for the resolve, courage, and the teamwork, of the people within the building,” said Gibbs.

Today both facilities have been restored. Bright open spaces have replaced broken windows, scattered debris, and wires hanging from above. Reminders of that night are now on display.

“A clock that I keep in my office that has the time as 11:24. It’s all shattered glass but it’s exactly the time the tornado hit and it flew off the wall. It’s the moment that God put his hand of protection on this facility, our staff, our patients,” said Otten.

At the Avera Heart Hospital, a cabinet displaying a block of wood, torn from a tree and revealing for the first time to humanity: a cross.

“We believe it’s a symbol for those of us who have faith that we were not alone that night,” said Gibbs.

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