Metro, Column, Boston

A Year On From Fatal Shooting, Boston Hospitals Still Debate On the Appropriate Course of Action

One year ago, Dr. Michael Davidson, a distinguished cardiac surgeon at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, a Harvard Medical School teaching facility and part of the Longwood Medical Campus, was shot and killed inside the hospital. The shooter was the disgruntled son of a woman who died shortly after surgery conducted by Davidson. The son insists that her death was caused by Davidson’s wayward prescription of a postoperative drug.

The tragic incident understandably sent Boston into a mournful frenzy that simultaneously chastised the evil of the shooter himself, as well as calling attention to the lack of security of Brigham and Women’s Hospital. People questioned how such an act of terror could even be possibly at a facility like Brigham.

Looking back a year later reveals that, unfortunately, not enough has been done to remedy the issue of insufficient and ineffective security at the Brigham medical facilities. Since then, many staffers continue to voice concerns about workplace safety.

Trish Powers, who has worked at Brigham and Women’s Hospital as a nurse for 24 years, has been vocal about the compromised safety of herself and fellow nurses.

“If the nurses aren’t safe, no one is safe. Patients aren’t safe. Visitors aren’t safe. No one is safe,” Powers said to local reporters. Not only does Powers assert that little has changed in the year following Dr. Davidson’s murder, she expressed that she even feels less secure.

Ms. Powers added in her interview  that on the day of the shooting most people were asked to shelter in place while not knowing exactly what was meant by that request. It showed clear lack of communication and preparedness in the event such a crisis occurred in part of the hospital.

“They could have set an example of how you should do hospital security … since the shooting in January of last year, we’ve actually had more nurses physically assaulted this year probably than ever,” Powers said, chastising feeble efforts on the part of Brigham to enhance security efforts. Since the incident, Powers continued her efforts as the bargaining chair for the Massachusetts Nurses Association.

Thankfully, Powers’ calls for increased security were not in vain, and, in fact, were answered by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the main federal agency charged with the enforcement of safety and health legislation. Earlier in December, the OSHA conducted a thorough investigation into the standard of safety at Brigham and issued a “Hazard Alert Letter” to the hospital for recommended safety adjustments.

The letter did not speak to any outward violations of safety standards and acknowledged that Brigham and Women’s Hospital does have programs in place that address workplace violence. In accordance with Ms. Powers’ gripes, however, the letter voiced employees’ ongoing exposure to workplace violence.

The letter goes on to list 14 recommendations to decrease future threats, including ensuring that hospital doors are locked following business hours, that identification card access technology and equipment is functional, that metal detectors be installed to prevent firearms from entering, and that general improvements are made in security staffing and training.

A spokesperson from the hospital said in a statement that the safety of their patients, families, and staff was their top priority. After working closely with the nursing union, they have been trying to address their concerns, while also noting with regret that they are exploiting the anniversary of the death of their colleague in this way.  

The Massachusetts Nurses Association Committee at Brigham and Women’s Hospital retorted that although the death of Dr. Davidson illuminated security shortfalls at the hospital, Brigham nurses have seen repeated violent incidents since the shooting last January.

“Until state lawmakers require all Massachusetts hospitals to implement effective workplace violence initiatives, as proposed by the MNA, Brigham nurses will continue to fight for the safety of their hospital,” the Committee said.

It remains to be seen whether or not the security measures recommended by the OSHA will be implemented and whether the issue of hospital safety in the aggregate will be addressed at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, but for now, at least the conversation has been taking place.

Featured Image by Brigham & Womens

February 18, 2016