Are hospital shootings preventable?

Hospital shootings are difficult to prevent because most cases involve a "determined shooter," according to new research from Johns Hopkins. Despite media attention about hospital shootings, though, they are rare events; people have a greater chance of getting struck by lightning, according to a research statement this week.

In Johns Hopkins' review of 11 years of data, there have been 154 hospital-based shootings that harmed 235 people who were injured or killed, according to a study in the Annals of Emergency Medicine, published Tuesday.

The study was prompted by the tragic September 2010 shooting at Baltimore's Johns Hopkins Hospital, in which a patient's family member, Paul Warren Pardus, shot and wounded David Cohen, an orthopedic surgeon who was treating his mother, WBAL News reported. Pardus turned the gun on his mother and then himself, killing them both. Cohen fully recovered from his injuries and is now back at work.

Two years after the incident, Johns Hopkins researchers found "most of the events involved a determined shooter with a specific target"--as was the case in the 2010 hospital shooting, according to lead author Gabe Kelen, director of the Johns Hopkins Department of Emergency Medicine.

Most shooters are targeting a particular person for revenge, suicide and euthanizing an ill relative, the study noted.

Forty percent of all the shootings occur on hospital property outside of buildings.

Nearly a third of (30 percent) of hospital shootings occur in the emergency department, and half (50 percent) of the ED incidents involve a police or security officer's firearm, either stolen to shoot victims or used by security to fire at an assailant.

The study advised hospitals to take security precautions with firearms, which could be much more effective than expensive, intrusive technologies, such as magnetometers, that offer a false sense of security, according to the research statement.

"We went back and looked at each case specifically and tried to make a determination if a metal detector would have made a difference in that case, and the answer in a majority of cases was no," study coauthor Christina Catlett, a Hopkins Hospital emergency physician, told WBAL.

The Joint Commission also warned hospitals to take extra security precautions in the ED, especially in areas with high crime rates or gang activity, in a June 2010 Sentinel Alert on hospital violence, cautioning against assault, rape and murder.

In November 2010, The Joint Commission issued a follow-up alert on suicide prevention.

For more information:
- read the research announcement
- check out the study (.pdf)
- here's the WBAL report
- see the Joint Commission's alert on hospital violence and alert on suicide prevention (.pdfs)

Related Articles:
How to rein in docs gone wild
Hospital weighs security against budget
Hospital color codes, bans violent patients
Long wait times, mental illness linked to rampant hospital violence
Hospital violence strikes nurses' aids the most
Hospitals with violence demand improved security