The spate of mass shootings, including an incident that claimed four lives at a Tulsa hospital, is driving efforts to enact new safeguards for health workers and enhanced penalties for people who use dangerous weapons on medical campuses, Axios reports.
Hospital trauma departments are on the front lines whenever there's a mass shooting. When those spaces are targeted, staff must mobilize to not only protect their patients but also themselves. Yet, efforts to fortify health facilities could also conflict with their traditional roles as community resources and safe spaces.
From 2010 to 2020, shootings resulted in 39 deaths at accredited health care facilities. From 2000 to 2011, researchers found there were 154 U.S. hospital-related shootings.
A survey from the American College of Emergency Physicians in 2018 concluded that nearly half of emergency room doctors have been assaulted at work. "The pandemic made the workplace more tense, particularly for emergency departments," said Jennifer Schmitz, president of the Emergency Nurses Association.
Bipartisan legislation introduced in the House this week would give health workers the same kind of protections as flight crews and airport workers and impose new federal penalties for individuals who use a dangerous weapon to assault or intimidate hospital employees.
"Our workforce is enduring historic levels of stress and violence as they continue to provide compassionate, quality care," said Rick Pollack, president of the American Hospital Association, which pushed for the effort.
Violence against health care workers existed long before the pandemic. Federal officials released guidelines in 2016 for hospitals to prevent workplace violence, including ways hospitals can identify their risks and implement solutions. The guidance called for steps like adding panic buttons, video surveillance and bulletproof glass, giving employees special emergency training and rethinking how workplaces are designed.
Many hospitals already employ guards at entrances and have systems that alert employees to armed intruders. Efforts to limit the number of visitors on hospital grounds can run counter to evidence that patients have better outcomes when they have family and friends close by. COVID often forced health care workers to become middlemen, communicating by phone with family members separate from hospitalized loved ones.