It was a dangerous and tragic time for South Carolina hospitals last week. In the span of 24 hours, Regional Medical Center (RMC) in Orangeburg and Prisma Health Laurens County Hospital in the Upstate were the victims of workplace shootings. We’re fortunate that there have been no fatalities yet, although one of the injured in Orangeburg is still recovering.
On a statewide emergency preparedness call last week, RMC president and CEO Charles Williams recounted the traumatic event and thanked his colleagues for the outpouring of support he received since the incident occurred on Wednesday, April 10. He was careful to note that, contrary to some reports in the media, the suspect was not a patient at RMC the day before the assault occurred. On Wednesday morning, the man was being treated by a physician and nurse whom he assaulted before he ran out of the ED, got into a car and left. He returned later that morning with a gun, jumped up on a desk and began firing, but rapid response from hospital staff and security meant he was quickly detained, and the Orangeburg Sheriff’s Department arrived within three minutes.
In the early morning the next day, Prisma Health Laurens County received a warning via the highway patrol that a visitor in the emergency department was armed and under the influence, explained hospital COO Justin Benfield. An armed police officer on site at the hospital entered the room the suspect was in and attempted to disarm him. The suspect shot at the officer point blank, hitting him in the shoulder before running through the ED and out to the parking lot where he was hit by gunfire and detained. Quick intervention and heroic actions by the officers, Benfield notes, prevented something worse from happening. Both the officer and suspect were treated and transported to Greenville Memorial.
Both Williams and Benfield discussed their security response and protocol. RMC moved to 24/7 armed security and added the same precaution to their freestanding emergency department in Bamberg following the incident. Laurens County has continuously maintained an armed security officer and sheriff’s department personnel on site 24/7 as well. Both facilities are looking into the possibility of adding metal detectors and will be conducting active shooter refresher training soon.
The two hospital leaders also took time to talk about the emotional impact on hospital staff who experienced these traumatic events. Benfield says his hospital immediately relieved the affected staff of their duties and called in pastoral care and employee assistance to help with recovery. Williams says much of his staff was fearful and in tears following the event as he implored future approaches to these kind of tragedies “consider the human side” of an entire staff coming to terms with and processing this kind of trauma.
At SCHA, our thoughts and prayers are with those affected and the staff at both facilities. We are encouraging hospitals across the state to revisit their command structure and security procedures for these kinds of incidents; reinforce active shooter protocol; and review crisis communication plans and post-traumatic responses to help employees recover.
We will also continue to strive toward policy changes that can make a difference, including our advocacy for Hospital Safe Zones, increasing penalties for healthcare workplace violence, improving behavioral healthcare in our state and bringing increased attention and resources to public health efforts.