After a fertilizer plant exploded in Texas in mid-April, the small town of West faced the daunting task of rebuilding. The cause of the explosion, which killed 14 and injured more than 200, is still undetermined, according to officials.
One of the many buildings affected by the blast was a nursing home called West Rest Haven, and the employees and residents were forced to relocate elsewhere. Members of the community didn’t hesitate to step up and assist these victims by providing resources and help to those in need.
“Everything Fell Down”
Residents at West Rest Haven nursing home had just finished their dinner on April 17th and were getting ready for bed when the fire at the plant began. Employees hurriedly helped residents out, instructing them to get in wheelchairs so they could move more quickly. What they didn’t know was that the worst was yet to come.
Lola Millhollin, a worker at the home, said they were going back in to get more residents when, “all of a sudden, it just blew. I mean, everything went flying everywhere. Everything fell down. The ceiling fell down. The windows blew out.”
One of the residents being wheeled out at the time, 85 year old Edith Nors, explained the explosion to the Waco Tribune-Herald, saying, “The first thing that came to mind was a tornado. I had never seen anything like that.”
All 133 of the nursing home residents made it out safely thanks to the brave employees and first responders on the scene. Once they were out, a new problem arose: they had nowhere to go.
Finding a New Home… Quickly
After the explosion, the nursing home was uninhabitable. Although it was not clear how much damage was done, the likelihood of tearing down the structure is high, said David Moon. Moon was a board member for the nursing home when it was created and has also served as president. He went on to say that they “just have to wait and probably tear down and rebuild… We’re doing OK here. We just have a lot of work to do.”
In the meantime, all 133 of the elderly residents of the nursing home were displaced from their home and needed a place to stay. Many patients were taken to the hospital after the explosion for injuries, but some were almost immediately transferred to nearby nursing homes. The Atrium, a nursing home 16 miles down the road from West Rest Haven, has already taken in around 25 of the displaced patients, according to business development liaison Missy Alford. She also said that once more short-term care patients leave the facility, 10 more displaced West nursing home patients will fill those spots.
The Atrium has been inundated with so many displaced patients, they have actually hired some employees of the now ruined West nursing home to help with their care.
“Everybody’s been working day and night,” Alford said. “We’ve all been here all weekend. But we’ve had plenty of help. People have come from all over the community. We’ve even had people drive all the way from Dallas and Houston to bring (donations) and help.”
Displaced Workers Get Help, Too
The residents weren’t the only ones without a place to go. About 150 nurses and staff members worked at the West Rest Haven nursing home and were left jobless after the explosion.
Texas Workforce Solutions quickly responded to the problem and set up information sessions to help workers in need find specialized jobs that fit their qualifications. They planned a job fair for all of the displaced employees and discussed plans for educational workshops to help with resume building, interviewing, and other skills necessary to get a job.
Other local businesses and organizations stepped up in different ways to help the workers and residents in need.
A local moving company, 3 Men Movers, organized a donation drive for The Atrium, collecting supplies like cash, water, food, clothing, and personal care items. According to their press release, the moving company had staff working the charity drive all day and they ended up raising around $2,000 for relief funds.
Other people and organizations have dropped off rooms full donations to help the victims who have lost their home and all of their possessions. Alford expressed her gratitude and explained that “the remaining need is for money to buy eyeglasses, dentures and hearing aids for those from the West home”.
A week after the explosion happened, 92 displaced residents had moved into a new nursing home and the rest were still in hospitals or with family. Susan McCombs, a local nursing home ombudswoman, explained that, “Fortunately, there were plenty of nursing home beds available in Central Texas when the explosion occurred.”
Clifton Nursing & Rehabilitation in Clifton is home to a number of the former West residents. Homestead Long Term Care in Hillsboro is also one of the facilities housing some of the other displaced residents. Various other homes have stepped up and taken new residents in, as well. According to Connie Heath, assistant director of nursing at Homestead, workers from the home went to the blast site shortly after, helping out where they could and bringing patients back to their facility.
“They have adjusted quite well. The community has been unbelievable.”