Japan earthquake and tsunami – Red cross hospital ishinomaki’s lifeline

The 402-bed Ishinomaki Red Cross Hospital normally treats about 60 patients a day, 1,800 patients a month.

For the first few days after the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, it treated 1,200 a day.

In the first month after the disaster the hospital treated more than 10,000 patients.

Ishinomaki Red Cross Hospital was the only functioning hospital in Ishinomaki, a major rice-shipping port on Japan’s north east coast in Miyagi prefecture.

The tsunami inundated 46% of the city, smashing and sweeping away large sections of coastal and urban areas and destroying or disabling every other hospital and many clinics, nursing homes and community health centres.

The anti seismic-built Ishinomaki Red Cross Hospital became the city’s lifeline. More than 438 medical staff from 92 Red Cross hospitals across Japan rushed to the hospital to help treat and care for the wounded and sick, using every available room and corridor, the outside car park and surrounding grounds.

Besides the patients pouring into the hospital there were more than 30,000 people in 313 evacuation centres and many people were trapped in their home.

Many doctors and nurses themselves were killed

The hospital’s medical team joined forces with the local medical associations and divided the city into 14 regions. Together, they deployed 1,038 doctors to treat the wounded and sick who were not able to reach the hospital.

“There was a deteriorating sanitary environment,” said the hospital’s medical director, Dr Tadashi Ishii.

“Getting to the hospital was very difficult. There was a lack of fuel, the roads were blocked or damaged, cars were swept away, radios and communications were not functioning. On top of this, many doctors and nurses were killed or affected.

Reporting on the humanitarian issues in Japan. Kiku tells Mike her survival story.

“We’d never seen anything like this before. It literally was a disaster area.”

Many people had been in the icy water of the tsunami wave for many hours and were suffering from hypothermia and at risk of pneumonia. Many were also in shock.

“Some people were not able to get to the hospital in time or were not reached in time and died,’ Dr Ishii said.

Doctors and nurses worked until they were exhausted, getting just enough rest as often as they could to keep going during those initial days and weeks.

By late April, the hospital was treating up to 400 patients a day, still well above its normal load.

By mid May, things were “starting to get back to normal”, said Dr Ishii. “But the local medical system has still not recovered.”

Every room and corridor was used to treat people, even the outside carpark

Japanese Red Cross, with support from Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies in more than 50 countries, is working to restore medical infrastructure and services in the Ishinomaki region. 

It will help rebuild and operate a 24-hour night-time emergency medical centre in the city. The previous centre, destroyed on March 11, provided primary emergency care to 15,000 patients a year. The Ishinomaki Red Cross Hospital is currently servicing this caseload, which is compromising the hospital’s prime aim of providing high-level medical services and care.

The foyer becomes an emergency room

Japanese Red Cross will also build and operate a temporary hospital for secondary medical care and rebuild the Ishinomaki Red Cross Nursing School. Planning work on the concept and design of these facilities has begun.

The Director of Ishinomaki Red Cross Hospital, Dr Kazuie Iinuma, said: “The devastation was really enormous. But we have started the recovery work and we believe we can do it (recover). The support that Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies all around the world provide to us really encourages us to do our work.”

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