Massachusetts native heads trauma team at hospital near bridge collapse

Jennifer Lord

Editor's note: Edit death toll in graph three as news warrants.

Framingham native Dr. Joseph Clinton unexpectedly found himself on the frontlines of disaster Wednesday in the wake of a rush-hour interstate bridge collapse in Minneapolis.

Clinton, 58, is the emergency medical chief for Hennepin Country Medical Center, which treated 28 patients, six critically injured, in the aftermath of the collapse, which tumbled traffic and huge sections of the bridge into the Mississippi River below.

A total of 79 people were injured and there were four confirmed deaths, although as many as 30 people were still reported missing yesterday as the rescue effort shifted into recovery. As many as 50 vehicles plummeted into the river when the bridge collapsed, leaving those who could escape to scramble to shore.

``Medically, things are going fine,'' Clinton said. ``We have a number of patients, but we had plenty of capacity to take care of it. In terms of the number of patients, it was manageable.

``We're a trauma center, the largest emergency hospital in the state, and we have disaster drills on a regular basis,'' Clinton added. ``We were prepared for this, in terms of everything working the way it should be.''

Underlying the medical team's efforts was an underlying concern: Was anyone from the hospital or any of their loved ones on the eight-lane Interstate 35W bridge, the major link between the twin cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul?

``You try to put it out of your mind,'' Clinton said. ``Our hospital is very close to that bridge and there were a lot of people going home at that time. We know at least one of our doctors was helping people on the site, but we still don't know if anyone from the hospital was there.''

The son of Dorothea and Earl Clinton and a 1966 graduate of Marian High School, Clinton headed west to the University of Iowa and went to medical school there. After a stay in Los Angeles for training, he did his residency in emergency medicine in Minnesota.

He thought he might head back east for a while or perhaps take a stab at the West Coast. Instead, he split the difference and stayed in Minneapolis, his home now for 30 years.

Clinton makes frequent visits home, not only for family but also for his checkups at the Framingham Heart Study, in which he participates.