Residents survive Mayfield nursing home annihilation

December 14, 2021
Wheelchairs and other accessible equipment are lined up together, after employees try to salvage what they could from the tornado damage in Mayfield, KY., Monday, Dec. 13, 2021.   in Mayfield, KY., Monday, Dec. 13, 2021.


MAYFIELD, Ky. — Just after 4 p.m. Friday, Mayfield Health and Rehabilitation nursing home residents hunkered down inside the small-town Western Kentucky facility for a tornado practice drill. 

They drew the blinds. They closed the curtains. They slowly shuffled in slippers from their rooms into hallways and relocated to the facility’s innermost area where staff covered them with blankets.

Little did they know that just over five hours later the practice would save their lives.

In what employees are calling a miracle, all 74 residents inside the facility just several blocks northeast of downtown survived — despite the unprecedented twister directly hitting the 35,000-square-foot building that night, ClearView Healthcare Management Regional Director of Operations Sarah Stewart said.

Only two suffered minor injuries — superficial cuts to their arms that did not require outside medical treatment.

“When you see the devastation of the building, to have kept that many people alive was truly a miracle,” Stewart said Monday. “These are vulnerable, elderly people who cannot run. The staff risked their lives to protect them. It’s the best outcome.”

Mayfield’s tornado is among an estimated 30 tornadoes that touched down Friday night. The twister trekked just over 200 miles, demolishing at least 1,000 homes in Kentucky and leaving at least 70 confirmed deaths, with more than 100 still unaccounted for as of Monday, according to the latest update from Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear.

Weekend tornadoes:Biden to visit Kentucky to survey damage from string of deadly tornadoes

The storm system also tore through parts of Arkansas, Tennessee, Missouri and Illinois.

Mayfield’s four-wing, one-story nursing facility suffered catastrophic damage and was declared a total loss by insurance agents Monday. It’s one of three nursing homes in the 10,000-ish populated town about 25 miles of the Illinois state line.

Jagged glass lined broken windows of the battered facility off Indiana Avenue, one of its wings completely leveled.

A black wheelchair loaded up with belongings of a resident sat outside the building’s main entrance. Beside it, a black-framed family photo collage rested on its side, school photos depicting elementary-age children, propped up by clear garbage bags full of clothing.

Two other facilities, Mills Nursing & Rehabilitation and Green Acres Healthcare, did not sustain damage, Stewart said. 

Despite the homes losing power briefly during the storm, generators in place kicked in shortly after, Stewart said.

Three days later, the facility remained without water. So did the entire town.

‘Divine intervention’

Before the twister touched down in Mayfield, Stewart said staffers recently moved eight residents out of one of the four wings so construction could take place.

The night of the tornado, that wing was leveled.

“It’s hard to say there wasn’t some divine intervention there,” Stewart said.

The night of the tornado, Stewart said a staff of about 20 inside the now crumbled facility closely followed local weather broadcasters in the event of an emergency.

About 9 p.m., they realized Mayfield was in the direct path of the storm. Staff began bringing residents and staff to the center of the building.

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At 9:27 p.m., the twister hit.

When it was safe, staff aided by some resident family members who raced to the scene, helped the residents evacuate.

They marked them with stickers to make sure all were accounted for.

Graves County Schools bused residents to other facilities including Mills and Green Acres.

‘My baby’s first blanket’

Less than two miles across town at Green Acres Healthcare, dozens of white garbage bags filled with some of the resident’s belongings lined the lobby floor.

Green Acres Administrator Dana Radford said when the tornado touched down, the facility housed 42 residents. On Monday, it was at capacity with 62.

“We’ve had an overwhelming amount of people that have come out and participated, donating,” said Radford, who was hired at the business just over two weeks ago. “We are so blessed. It’s so overwhelming we can’t even keep up with everybody right now.”

Outside the facility’s front doors, Cara Sue Cash, of West Paducah, left the facility with her 79-year-old father Bill Cash after visiting her mother there.

“They are just scrambling right now. Poor nurses, but they are doing a really good job keeping up,” Cash said. “The outpouring from this community and surrounding community has been awesome.”

The aftermath:After surviving tornado, small-town Kentucky residents anxiously wonder where they go from here

Behind her, Next Level Hospitality Services Regional Director of Culinary Services Sarah Waggoner stood near her two-door Honda Accord.

Since Saturday, Waggoner has delivered items to the three nursing homes and others affected across the western portion of the Bluegrass State.

“The kitchen at Mayfield is completely destroyed, but the food pantry and linen pantries were completely untouched,” she said. “My target is the (kitchen) but if the facility is requesting towels, wash clothes, sheets, I grab those.”

As of Monday afternoon she had delivered 27 cases of water, four cases of cereal, 12 cases of canned goods, 15 cases of plates, five cases of bowls, six cases of cups and endless amounts of silverware, napkins, straws and trash bags.

Across town at Mills’ nursing home, 28-year-old Kandice Briguglio pulled behind the facility in a four-door orange Dodge Charger to drop off cases of water and blankets — including a large yellow and gray blanket covered with owls.

The facility had 98 residents Friday. On Monday it housed 104.

“I departed with my baby’s first blanket that I ever got her,” the Wayfield mother said of the colorful bird blanket she donated to the elderly. “I wanted to make sure someone wasn’t cold.”

Behind her, her 6-year-old daughter, Kinslaea Whitis, who wore a pink hat and pink boots, sat in the back seat as she listened to her mother speak.

The little girl smiled.

Natalie Neysa Alund is based in Nashville at The Tennessean and covers breaking news across the South for the USA TODAY Network. Reach her on Twitter @nataliealund.


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