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A Closer Look at Hospital Shooting Incidents

​PEOPLE ARE more likely to be killed by a bolt of lightning than in a hospital shooting, according to a new study out of the Johns Hopkins Office of Critical Event Preparedness and Response. The study looks at hospital shootings from 2000 through 2011. The research was sparked by a shooting at The Johns Hopkins Hospital a couple of years ago where a distraught man fatally shot his mother, who was a hospital patient, and then shot a doctor before turning the gun on himself.

“Our interest was piqued in response to that. Because we wanted to get a sense of how big was this issue, what kind of things were other people experiencing,” says study author Gabor Kelen, professor and chair of the Department of Emergency Medicine at Johns Hopkins. Kelen adds that the researchers had planned to only take a look at a couple of years’ worth of shootings but there was not enough data so they expanded the research. The researchers found 154 shootings in 40 states from 2000 through 2011.

The rate of workplace violence in healthcare settings is much higher than in other industries, according to the Department of Labor. Given that, Kelen says he was surprised at the low number of hospital shootings.

Bryan Warren, president of the International Association for Healthcare Security and Safety, worries that the study’s emphasis on the rarity of hospital shootings might downplay the risk of violence in hospitals. “That would give administrators and other folks the misperception that they don’t really need to do anything.” Warren added that, “we certainly can’t rest on our laurels and think that ‘well, because statistically healthcare shootings are somewhat improbable, we don’t need to worry about anything else.’ That is just one very small part of a much bigger issue involving the security and safety of our patients and our staff.”

The low number of shootings made it difficult to try to identify trends, according to Kelen, who says researchers were surprised by “how random and haphazard and distributed across all types of states and types of hospitals all of these shootings really were.” In fact, he says, “There were very few distinct patterns that [could] help mitigate these types of things.”

That increases the security challenge. There were some distinct takeaways, though. Nearly a third of the shootings occurred in the emergency department. And 91 percent of the shooters were male. Most of the shooters had a personal association with their victims.

According to the study, the “data indicate that healthcare providers and employees are unlikely to be victims of indiscriminate violence. In fact, unlike those in education campuses, most hospital shootings have an intended specific target.” The study goes on to note, “In our series, almost 75 percent of shooting events reported as occurring within hospitals were highly targeted (grudge, suicide, ill relative, escape attempt).”

Moreover, most victims are patients. “Only about a fifth of all victims were employees, and few of these were physicians or nurses.”

Another notable finding was that 50 percent of emergency department shootings involved firearms belonging to security personnel, which had often been wrestled away from the officer.

The researchers note that specialized training, such as teaching officers best practices in securing their weapons, might be more helpful than using technology such as metal detectors.