Arming docs not the answer to prevent office violence, experts say

A Philadelphia psychiatrist who returned fire on a mentally ill patient in his office last week "without a doubt saved lives," stated Yeadon Police Chief Donald Molineux in a press conference following the incident, as reported by the Delaware County Daily Times.

The shooting at Mercy Fitzgerald Hospital campus in Yeadon, Pennsylvania Thursday left one mental health caseworker dead, a doctor wounded and the suspected shooter critically injured. Richard Plotts, 49, of Upper Darby, Pennsylvania, who was a patient at Sister Marie Lenahan Wellness Center where the shooting occurred, allegedly shot and killed his caseworker, Theresa Hunt, 53, of Philadelphia.

Then, Plotts' doctor, Lee Silverman, who works at the hospital's outpatient psychiatric facility, pulled his own weapon and shot the patient, twice in the torso and once in the arm. Plotts has a history of psychiatric problems and a criminal record, including illegal possession of firearms and drug violations, authorities told the newspaper. He was taken into custody after SWAT and tactical teams swept the scene, FierceHealthcare previously reported.

Although the physician's actions appear to be a case of self-defense, potentially preventing further loss of life, not all experts agree that arming physicians is the best tactic against office violence, according to an article from NBC News.

"My guess is that arming psychiatrists is more likely to be harmful than helpful," DJ Jaffe, executive director of Mental Illness Policy Org, a nonpartisan science-based think tank focused on serious mental illness, told the outlet. Rather, Jaffe emphasized the need for legislation that makes it easier to commit potentially dangerous patients before they harm themselves or others.

In the meantime, "there are a lot of things mental health professionals are trained to do to limit the risk of violent incidents," said Jeffrey Swanson, Ph.D., a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Duke University School of Medicine, who noted that about 7 percent of the mentally ill are liable to commit some act of minor or serious violence. "One thing we do know is that the presence of firearms doesn't necessarily provide protection--and sometimes it does just the opposite."

To learn more:
- read the article from the Delaware County Daily Times
- see the story from NBC News