Debris from the covers the walls and floors of Monette Manor following a deadly tornado Friday
The Monette Manor nursing facility after being ravaged by a tornado on Friday. Credit: Photo by Brandon Bell/Getty Images

The quick thinking by a 57-year-old licensed practical nurse and her co-workers at an Arkansas nursing home during a deadly tornado Friday night likely saved the lives of dozens of residents, leaders said. 

Those caregivers, along with others in a six-state area ravaged by deadly storms, were being applauded by many across the country Monday as news of their exploits continued to spread.  

Barbara Richards was looking out of the window when she noticed a tornado heading straight for Monette Manor, a nursing facility in Monette, AK, 67 residents lived. As the funnel cloud got closer, she quickly ran to residents and told them to cover their heads with pillows. She and her fellow nurses gathered residents in a hallway near the nurses station and barricaded the doors with mattresses before the tornado hit. 

Richards, who detailed the experience to the Washington Post, added that she and other nurses held onto residents’ wheelchairs to shield them from debris. 

“Then it hit and blew the glass out of the windows in the facility,” she recalled. “You could see the rotation inside the building.”

One resident died during the storm Friday night, but the toll could have been worse if staff didn’t react quickly, area observers noted. Nurses who weren’t on shift Friday and other community locals showed up to help account for residents and provide support 

The facility’s administrator described the area as a “good community” that now has to look ahead to rebuilding. 

“It’s going to take some time but that will be the plan,” administrator Kevin Stewart said. “It’s going to be a while but I think it’s possible.”

The Arkansas Health Care Association is setting up a fund to help the provider, according to executive director Rachel Bunch. 

“Our long-term care community continues to come together and offer support to those impacted from the tornadoes that devastated Monette Manor and surrounding communities on December 10, 2021,” Bunch said in a statement emailed to McKnight’s Long-Term Care News.

“We are particularly thankful to the courageous staff who were onsite at Monette Manor during the storm,” she added. “The staff’s actions were truly heroic.” 

Bunch said residents have been evacuated, and as of Monday morning, very few are still in the hospital, with some planning to be discharged to area nursing homes. Additionally, many staff members from Monette are working temporarily in those area homes so they can provide a familiar face to residents.

“The residents lost everything when the tornado struck, and we want to help them build back what was lost as best we can,” Bunch said. 

The tornado in Arkansas was one of several that hit six states on Friday. Other states affected were Kentucky, Illinois, Missouri and Tennessee. 

Mayfield Health and Rehabilitation, a 100-bed facility in Mayfield, KY, was destroyed by one of the twisters, according to the Kentucky Association of Health Care Facilities. 

“The staff of the facility evacuated residents throughout the night and, thankfully, there was no loss of life. Simply put, the facility’s emergency preparedness plan worked. We credit the hard work of the facility leadership and staff as to why all the residents are safe today,” Elizabeth Johnson, association president and executive director, told McKnight’s Monday. 

“Knowing that the residents are safe, our association’s focus has turned to assisting our long-term care staff. We have heard from our members in affected counties that some of their staff have been personally impacted by the tornadoes,” Johnson said, “Many of these staff members lost everything, including their home while they were continuing to care for residents.” 

The Kentucky association has also set up a relief fund to help staff in long-term care facilities impacted by the tornadoes and storms in the western part of the state. The fund can be found here.