According to a Johns Hopkins study published last year, there were 91 shootings inside U.S. hospitals between 2000 and 2011, typically in emergency departments. Another 63 shootings took place outside on hospital grounds. In response, hospitals are working to prepare their staff for potential gun violence at the workplace — essentially, training them about how to survive a shooting and how to best disarm a shooter.
“It used to be hospitals were kinds of ‘hands off.’ Those kinds of things didn’t happen,” Caryn Thornburg, an emergency preparedness expert who is currently working with the California Hospital Association to conduct those kind of trainings, said in reference to hospital shootings. But that’s not the case anymore. Thornbug believes the economic downturn, drug and alcohol abuse, and the rise of concealed carry laws have all contributed to a the current environment in which hospitals have become targets.
According to the Johns Hopkins study, the rate of assaults on hospital employees is 8 in 10,000, compared with 2 in 10,000 for other employees in the private sector. And that doesn’t include patients. Just this week, a patient waiting to receive treatment in a Pennsylvania hospital was struck by a stray bullet.
That’s why Thornburg has designed a class specifically geared toward healthcare workers in the Golden State. The California Hospital Association has held about 17 different eight-hour sessions to give staff members — including doctors, nurses, hospital chief executives, and receptionists — an opportunity to receive training in preparation for gun violence.
Cheri Hummel, the vice president of disaster preparedness for the California Hospital Association, points out that most workplace shootings are over by the time law enforcement is even able to get there. That’s where hospital staff come in. “Everyone should know and understand how to handle this kind of an event,” Hummel told the Los Angeles Times, explaining that hospitals have the unique challenge of safeguarding patients who may not be able to be moved. “You can’t just evacuate an entire hospital. Even sheltering in place and putting everyone on lockdown are challenges,” Hummel added.
Hummel estimates that about 600 of California’s hospital employees have attended a training so far, but the demand is growing. Lower-level employees are noticing that hospital CEOs will take eight hours out of their day to focus on gun violence prevention courses, and that sends the signal that it’s an important priority.
Even outside of mass shootings that threaten medical professionals’ lives, hospitals are certainly impacted by the rising tide of gun violence. Hospital staff treat increasing numbers of patients with gunshot wounds, which racks up an estimated $5.6 million in medical bills each year. In some areas that have especially high rates of gun violence, like Chicago, hospitals are desperately seeking more blood donations because their supplies aren’t sufficient to treat everyone who gets shot.