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CA Hospital Shooting Shows the Need for Gun-Themed Training

Scott Wallask, for HealthLeaders Media, April 20, 2009

Last Thursday, Diana Hendel, CEO of Long Beach (CA) Memorial Medical Center, had the unenviable task of flanking the city's mayor and police chief in a televised press conference to discuss a murder-suicide at the hospital earlier that day.

Hendel took the role of promising the public that the medical center—like other healthcare facilities, a pillar of the community—was still a safe place to go. "I can assure you that our patients are well-cared for and are completely safe," Hendel said during the press conference, which was also posted online.

There may have been no stopping the shooting, during which an outpatient pharmacy technician at the hospital shot and killed an executive director of the pharmacy and a supervisor before fatally turning the gun on himself.

Such situations should prompt CEOs to consider security-based training drills that involve one or more people brandishing firearms.

"Most hospitals haven't looked at how to keep people safe during an active shooter incident," said Richard Sem, CSC, CPP, president of Sem Security Management of Trevor, WI, who spoke in February to HealthLeaders Media's sister publication, Briefings on Hospital Safety.

Generally, healthcare workers are a caring group who don't always acknowledge real dangers in front of them. "They're so trained to help [people], but there are some situations where they just need to get out of the way," Sem said.

Eyewitness accounts given to the local press in Long Beach seem to indicate that clinicians and security officers at Long Beach Memorial Medical Center did in fact attempt to shelter patients and visitors after gunshots rang out.

Training drills involving gun scenarios are the best way to underscore how critical a real crisis is, Sem said. These exercises also help physicians and nurses to switch gears from trying to help the person with the gun to protecting the unarmed people around a suspect.

As of Monday afternoon, police had not released a motive for the shootings in Long Beach, according to a department spokesperson. But Police Chief Anthony Batts said during the press conference last Thursday that America's economic down spiral may be to blame in the bigger picture.

"I think this is a trend of active shooters that you've seen nationwide . . . probably because of the tension that is going on in our society today," Batts said.

In March, a man allegedly opened fire in a nursing home in Carthage, NC, hitting 11 people and killing eight of them, including residents and a nurse.

Less deadly gun incidents are common in hospitals. For example, in January, an agitated family member of a patient allegedly pointed an unloaded gun at a security officer at Crouse Hospital in Syracuse, NY.


Scott Wallask is senior managing editor for the Hospital Safety Center. He can be reached at swallask@hcpro.com.

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