03 Oct 2012

Why the Rarity of Hospital Shootings Owes More to Planning Than Some Might Believe

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An incident in September, 2010 at a John Hopkins hospital in Baltimore was a trigger for a study conducted into the incidence of hospital shootings. The incident involved a man shooting his mother’s cancer surgeon, followed by his mother, and then himself. Researchers from the John Hopkins University School of Medicine went on to conduct a study, working on 11 years of data regarding hospital shootings to arrive at the conclusion that while hospital shootings are rare, there may be more planning involved in the shootings than is evident at first glance.

The study establishes that hospital shootings are rarer than cases of individuals being struck down by freak lightning. However, in most of the cases the culprit, referred to as a ‘determined shooter’, has a personal link with the victim. This discovery points towards the belief that most hospital shootings are usually not random acts of aggression.

The researchers went through news releases and articles published in newspapers between January 1 of 2000 and December 31 of 2011. They were able to derive their results from 154 incidents through those years. The incidents took place either within the hospital walls or outside the building but within the hospital premises. The most common motives for these shootings were found to be either revenge, suicide or the attempt to euthanize terminally ill relatives. Of the shooting victims, twenty percent have been found to be hospital staff. In plain figures, of all the incidents, the emergency room saw thirty one acts of violence, thirty five took place in the parking lots and twenty nine in the rooms of patients. The unpredictability of such incidents makes it difficult for law enforcement officers and hospital security to be prepared for such incidents.

The research showed that three percent of hospitals in the U.S. that provide critical care experience 0.2% shootings in a year. The study revealed further that of the cases that occur, fifty nine percent take place inside the hospital building, and forty one percent occur outside the building but within the premises. The one additional disturbing discovery the research team made was that 23% of shootings in the emergency departments involved the shooter taking a police or security officer’s firearm, or ended in the officers’ shooting the assailant.

It may be difficult to predict such cases, and therefore to prevent them from occurring at all, especially in emergency rooms where there are high stakes involved for patients and their families. However, there are security steps that can be taken to reduce the chances of potential culprits from coming in contact with firearms. The research team recommends that magnetometers and metal detectors are impractical solutions in a hospital. There are too many entrances in most hospitals and too many people entering every day for these devices to be successful.

Instead, there will be more benefits from giving hospital security officers additional training in the areas of better securing of firearms. Other staff members may also be trained in security and be taught to watch for and detect non-standard behavior. While aggressions cannot be completely controlled, being watchful can help hospitals to provide timely solutions during emergencies and bring down the number of casualties.

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