Friday, October 07, 2022

Shooting at Tulsa hospital exposes vulnerability of health care facilities

Hospitals, like schools, are generally not designed to protect against the threat of a determined gunman entering a building to take his life.

The vulnerability of health care facilities was uncovered by a shooter who killed four people and then killed himself on Wednesday at a hospital in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Officials said the assailant broke into a building on the St. Francis Hospital complex with little difficulty, hours after purchasing an AR-style rifle.

watch: Congress debates gun safety law in wake of Uvalde school shooting

Here’s a look at what is known about security at the Tulsa facility and other US hospitals:

Did the gunman go through security?

No, the 45-year-old man identified as the shooter, Michael Lewis of Muskogee, Oklahoma, parked his car in an adjacent garage, then went through the unlocked doors to the medical building, officials said.

“This is an entry that is open to the public,” Tulsa Police Chief Wendell Franklin told reporters on Thursday. “He was able to walk without any sort of challenge.”

It was walking distance from the entrance to the office area where Louis fatally shot his primary target, Dr. Preston Phillips. Police said that Phillips had recently undergone surgery for Louis and Louis blamed the doctor for the chronic pain he was still suffering from.

Once Louis came in, “he started firing at anyone who got in his way,” Franklin said. At least one person who held the door open for others to escape died.

Could the shooter have been stopped with better protection?

The president and CEO of St. Francis Health System said no one can stop someone with guns that are “helpful to cause harm”.

Dr. Cliff Robertson did not provide details about the hospital’s security. He said the facility has procedures in place for dealing with “difficult, unhappy patients,” though he did not elaborate.

Hospital officials plan to review their safety procedures in the coming days. There will be “a thousand questions” to answer regarding the shooting, Robertson said.

From official accounts, the response time of the officials could not have been much better. Wendell said officers responded to the shooting within minutes and the shooter killed himself when police got in touch.

Is it standard for hospitals to leave certain entryways open?

Yes, because some urgent medical conditions require rapid transfer of patients. But some hospitals, particularly those that have dealt with violence on their grounds, have upgraded security in recent years.

Mercy Hospital in Chicago stepped up security following a 2019 attack in which a man fatally shot an attending physician, his former fiancée, in a parking lot. He then entered the hospital, where he shot and killed a pharmacy resident and a police officer, before fatally shooting himself.

There are now security officers stationed at every entrance, and the hospital has a system that notifies staff electronically of any armed intruders.

How common are shootings in hospitals?

From 2000 to 2011, there were 154 hospital-related shootings, according to a 2017 guide from the International Association of Emergency Medical Services Chiefs, citing emergency medical service history.

The guide said about 60 percent of those shootings were inside hospitals, and about 40 were outside hospitals.

According to the guide, 235 people were injured or killed in the attacks, which also cited data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which indicated that violence is four times more common in health care than in other industries.

What are some unique challenges for hospitals?

Some patients have limited mobility, and many staff members are forced to live with them in dangerous situations, sometimes making quick evacuation impossible.

watch: How other countries have dealt with gun safety after mass shootings

In addition, hospital buildings are often labyrinths, with many doors leading to more doors. The Tulsa police chief said such was the case in Wednesday’s shooting, when the enormity of the building created echoes, making it difficult for officers and others to know where the bullets were coming from.

What else have hospitals done to improve safety?

Even before the 2019 shooting at the Chicago Mercy, the hospital began training staff on what to do during the event of an active gunfight. This included instructions to step back into the rooms, lock the doors, and turn off the lights.

Training sessions at the hospital that used to be held annually before the 2019 shooting are now held four times a year, said Paul Stewart, spokesman for the hospital, now called Insight Hospital and Medical Center.

Some hospitals have also installed metal detectors out of concern about people entering with guns. At Chicago’s UI Health, which is affiliated with the University of Illinois, metal detectors were installed in the emergency room, though not nearly as many as nurses and other health care workers demanded.

Nurses complain that patients entering with guns are very common.

“He did it when someone brought a semi-automatic weapon and was actually making a video on his phone about how he was going to kill the nurses,” said Paul Pater, a nurse at the hospital.

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