Mass shooting aftermath: Nurses need time to heal too

In the modern healthcare landscape, healthcare workers must be prepared for the fallout from mass shootings or other mass casualty events. Hospital leaders, meanwhile, must be ready to support nurses for any trauma caused by proximity to such events, according to Nurse.com.

Experts have long known nurses are susceptible to post-traumatic stress disorder, especially for those who have encountered death or serious injury among children or adolescents. But a mass shooting adds a layer of public scrutiny that complicates the healing process for nurses, the article noted.

The article cited the example of a 2011 mass shooting in Tucson, Arizona, that nearly claimed the life of then-Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. Leaders at Banner-University Medical Center used critical incident stress management to help nurses process the complex emotions associated with both the work of treating the victims and the increased spotlight. The program included individual and group meetings as well as large meetings to brief staff on the latest information. Indeed, the "enhanced vigilance" and flow of information demonstrated in the wake of a terrorist attack in Paris last November can serve as a model for U.S. healthcare contingency plans, FierceHealthcare previously reported.

Secondary trauma is also a risk under such circumstances, particularly among nurses who have experienced other traumatic events such as the death of a parent, Nurse.com explained. Most hospitals attempt to clear up confusion as best they can by debriefing staff within 48 hours of traumatic events, Joy A. Lauerer, R.N., a mental health clinical nurse specialist, told the publication. However, it's also important to continually check back in with staff in the following weeks and months.

Emergency departments, in particular, should not try to dictate the recovery process for staff, according to Lesa Beth Titus, R.N., a trauma coordinator at Mercy Medical Center, the Roseburg, Oregon, hospital that cared for victims of a 2015 mass shooting. At Mercy, she told Nurse.com, many workers took longer than others to recover from the experience, and in many cases, decided they could no longer work in emergency settings. These workers were offered jobs elsewhere in the hospital.

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