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The Bigger Picture

WCUCOM Hit by Hattiesburg Tornado

A tornado ripped through the town of Hattiesburg, MS in the early morning of Saturday, January 21, killing four people and leaving destruction in its wake. The campus of William Carey University and its College of Osteopathic Medicine (WCUCOM) suffered significant damage. Fortunately, no students, faculty, or administration were among the reported fatalities. The damage, however, was significant enough that James Turner, DO, WCUCOM Dean, was forced to close the college’s on-campus operations.

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Medical school facilities were among the buildings to sustain damage from tornado at William Carey University. Photo via Baptist Press.

“Of the four affected buildings, two are structurally sound and may be salvageable,” says Dr. Turner. He added that, while other classrooms may soon be useable, the anatomy lab was hit hardest and WCUCOM may have to substitute virtual anatomy models in the interim.

Early estimates are that it may take as long as 18 months to rebuild everything, but Dr. Turner has announced that some classes will resume this week in an empty nursing school facility at nearby Southern Mississippi University.

“I’m pleased to report that we are headed back to class, deeply grateful for the broad support and well wishes our community received,” Dr. Turner told students during a meeting Tuesday afternoon.

Several of the COM’s buildings may be usable after they’re cleaned up, but the campus has no IT support, power, or water, and housing conditions will be unsuitable for some time. While the school is “still in salvage mode,” WCUCOM hopes to retrieve 80 percent of its computers and, although the university’s communications are under several feet of water, its internet is up and running and its website is operational.

Fundraising initiatives have begun. AACOM President and CEO Stephen C. Shannon, DO, MPH, convened a conference call Monday evening with Dr. Turner, Commission on Osteopathic College Accreditation (COCA) Chair Ken Johnson, DO, and American Osteopathic Association (AOA) CEO Adrienne White-Faines, MPA, to discuss how best to respond to WCUCOM’s needs and to coordinate that effort.

The American Osteopathic Foundation (AOF) is accepting tax-deductible donations to assist WCUCOM students and faculty with their material losses. Donors can visit www.aof.org/wcu2017 and make donations directly online. Or they can text 41444, enter the keyword WCU and the dollar amount (e.g. WCU 20). No additional language or symbols are required. Text donors will receive a response with a link to enter their donation.

An assessment of the tornado’s damage and its short and long-term implications continues but remains incomplete at this time. AACOM will continue to collaborate with the AOA and other groups to support WCUCOM’s needs in order to help return the COM’s on-campus activities to operational status as quickly as possible.

“I’m blessed with a faculty that is taking this by the horns and is going to make this work,” Dr. Turner says.

AACOM and the AOA are particularly conscious of the students’ needs and stand ready to work with Dr. Turner, faculty, and staff to address the issues that may arise from this crisis. AACOM will also make every effort to provide whatever assistance is needed as the students continue their medical education.

WCUCOM asks that direct communications with the school be kept to a minimum as the assessment of needs continues.

“We’re not going to let our kids suffer… that’s our goal,” says Dr. Turner.