Home E-Weekly July 29, 2014

Hospital Shooting Puts Workplace Safety in the Spotlight

Published: July 28, 2014

Police have charged Richard Plotts, the psychiatric patient who last week killed his caseworker and exchanged gunfire with his psychiatrist at Mercy Fitzgerald Hospital in Darby, Pa., with first-degree murder.

According to news reports, Mr. Plotts pulled a loaded .32-caliber semi-automatic handgun during a scheduled appointment and shot Theresa Hunt in the head at close range, killing the caseworker. Lee Silverman, MD, ducked behind a chair, drew his own handgun and shot Mr. Plotts 3 times before co-workers burst into the room to wrestle the armed patient to the ground. The psychiatrist suffered graze wounds on his temple and thumb, but Delaware County (Pa.) District Attorney Jack Whelan lauded his actions.

"I believe that if the doctor did not have a firearm, (and) the doctor did not utilize the firearm, he'd be dead today, and I believe that other people in that facility would also be dead," Mr. Whelan told reporters.

Dr. Silverman possessed a permit to carry the weapon, but carried it in violation of hospital policy, according to reports. Mercy Health System spokeswoman Bernice Ho says patients and visitors are required to check firearms with hospital officials during their stays.

"After a tragic event such as this, we certainly will review our policies and procedures to ensure we do all we can to protect our patients," she says, adding that Dr. Silverman remains a full member of Mercy Health's medical team.

The incident was another stark reminder of the dangers that healthcare workers face from acts of violence.

  • In 2010 at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, a distraught man shot the orthopedic surgeon who delivered bad news about his mother's surgery.
  • In November 2013, another stabbed a nurse to death at a Texas ASC.
  • A month later, a gunman opened fire in a Reno, Nev., urology office, killing a physician and wounding 2 others.

In light of this violence that put healthcare workers in the crosshairs, as well as the 2013 incident in which a man opened fire at a Washington Navy Yard office complex, the staff at Parkway Surgery Center in Hagerstown, Md., approached Administrator Jennifer Collins, CMOM, CASC, about developing a plan of action for facing similar terror.

"It's a very stressful topic," says Ms. Collins. "The psychology of gunmen is that they want to do as much damage as they can in the shortest amount of time possible."

Local police instructed her to watch the video "Run, Hide, Fight", issued by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which offers tips for surviving an active shooter event. The images are disturbing and the topic is tough to discuss, but the lessons are vitally important, says Ms. Collins.

The police emphasized that you can't predict anyone's behavior, including your own, when faced with an actual life-or-death death situation, she noted. The best you can do is to put policies in place to protect staff and patients when an armed intruder threatens their safety. But after talking with administrators from across the country at a recent conference, Ms. Collins was surprised at how few facilities have such plans in place.

Daniel Cook

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