Emerging Issues in Security

Recent Violence Points to the Dangerous Healthcare Environment

Two incidents of workplace violence within 1 day of each other continues to remind employees with patient-contact jobs and the security professionals who must protect them, about the continuing dangers of the healthcare environment.

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On June 29, 2017, a pain-management patient in Las Vegas, Nevada who was denied an appointment shot and wounded two clinic employees before killing himself. He was armed with a hand gun. The next day, a disgruntled former physician of the Bronx-Lebanon Hospital in New York City entered the facility with an AR-15 rifle concealed under his lab coat. He somehow managed to get past security, using an expired hospital employee ID card. He was seeking revenge against a female doctor who had written a negative review of his workplace behavior. He had joined the hospital in August 2014, with a limited medical license from the Caribbean and resigned in February 2015, while under investigation for sexual harassment. He killed a female doctor (not his intended target, who was not working that day), who had volunteered to take a shift for a colleague. In 2004, the shooter was convicted of misdemeanor sexual battery in New York and given community service.

A Bronx-Lebanon Hospital spokesperson told the media they had done a background check of the shooter, including a fingerprint check, which showed no criminal convictions. It’s possible the subject’s conviction was not noted because many criminal background checks don’t usually go back beyond 7 years from the date of the check.

One of the first nationally-recognized hospital violence murder cases happened in April 1990, in San Diego, California. The son of a man who had come into the emergency room and died of a heart attack returned and killed a nurse and a hospital employee, and wounded a doctor and a visitor. He later turned himself into the police. During his criminal trial, he continued to blame the doctors who “let his father die” as his motive for the shootings.

Similarly, in September 2010, a physician was shot and wounded by the son of an elderly woman at the Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, MD. The shooter had killed his mother first, to “put her out of her misery,” after he claimed she was mistreated by the doctor he ultimately wounded. The subject killed himself as police closed in.

Several urologists have been shot and wounded or killed by angry male patients who blamed them when their various surgeries left them injured or impotent. The irony is that some doctors who were killed didn’t do those particular operations on the shooters, they were just in the line of fire. In 2003, a Kaiser urologist in Baldwin Park, California was shot and wounded by an angry patient. In December 2012, one male urologist in Reno, Nevada was killed, and his female urology colleague was injured by an angry gunman. Only 1 month later, in January 2013, a Newport Beach, CA urologist was killed by one of his patients.

As Eugene Rhee, MD, a former president of the California Urological Association said in an interview after the Newport Beach, California incident, “Federal law has done a great job protecting patients,” Rhee said. “But I think it’s time to start protecting physicians as well.”