Physician Practice

Your action plan: What to do when violence strikes

Medical Environment Update, January 1, 2018

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Experts say you should have a plan in place and practice it. Consider this your guide for training and planning.

Editor’s note: This is the first of a series of stories that will help address the need for medical clinics to have a plan in place when certain emergencies occur. Use the tips in these stories to create your own protocols and to help during employee training.

By now, the advice has been loud and clear to safety folks and administrators of medical clinics: You should have a safety plan in place that addresses the possibility of an agitated patient in your facility, or, at worst, a violent intruder or active shooter.

The reality is that healthcare facilities are increasingly becoming the target of armed violence. Usually, it’s the result of an anxious or disgruntled patient—angry at a large medical bill, perhaps, or someone nervous about upcoming treatment. More frequently, however, armed incidents are carried out by upset spouses who go looking for their estranged partners at work, or by an angry family member who blames the illness or death of a loved one on a physician.

In a hospital, there’s usually several layers of protection, including locked doors, security forces, and trained employees who know how to de-escalate a situation. That’s not always the case in clinics. You can still walk unimpeded into many medical facilities and be greeted by staff at an open desk in an open waiting room. It’s an environment that leaves staff and patients vulnerable to acts of violence.

Take the situation of November 27, 2015 in Colorado Springs, Colorado. In that case, Robert Lewis Dear Jr., a 57-year-old man from Charleston, South Carolina, targeted the Planned Parenthood clinic there based on his religious and political views against abortion.

Dear entered the facility after firing several shots outside, according to published reports, and took several staff members and clients hostage during a five-hour standoff with police. At the end of the incident, SWAT teams stormed the clinic, resulting in Dear’s arrest, but not before one police officer and two civilians were killed.

What would you do if that was your clinic? How would your staff react? What steps would immediately be taken to shut down the clinic, contain the situation, and ensure the safety of your patients? What are your protocols to communicate with responders?

Many healthcare experts suggest that during the holidays, healthcare facilities should take a close look at their violence prevention plans, practice response plans with employees, and take extra precautions to shore up their facility’s physical environment. Consider this article your guide to help you plan your actions and train your employees.

This is an excerpt from a member only article. To read the article in its entirety, please login or subscribe to Medical Environment Update.

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