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A Gunman, 15 Minutes Of Terror, And A Lawsuit

May 5, 2011
Written by: , Filed in: Medical Ethics, Practice Management
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The gun was real.

The man holding it walked into the intensive care unit at St. Rose Dominican Hospitals—Siena Campus in Henderson, Nevada. Witnesses said he seemed edgy. The staff was terrified. A little more than a year before, police had shot and killed an armed man in the hospital’s emergency room after he threatened suicide.

This time, the scene was the intensive care unit, which was caring for 26 patients at the time. The man pointed the gun at one nurse’s chest from seven or eight steps away, and at another’s face from a distance of just three or four feet.

He ordered the two nurses and six other staff members, including two physicians, into a break room. At least two of them had been caring for patients when they were taken hostage. The patients were left unattended.

Two security guards who were in the break room were told to get rid of their radios. Several employees said later they thought they were going to die. One weeping nurse asked to call her children to say goodbye. The man with the gun said no.

The gun was real. The hostage situation was not.

The man with the gun was a off-duty police officer. The gun was not loaded. The “attack” was a terrorism training exercise.

Three administrators on the hospital’s Emergency Management Committee, including the head of security, had received complaints that previous emergency drills had not been realistic. So, they decided, if the staff wants realistic, we’ll give them realistic.

The three administrators did not tell anyone else—neither their superiors nor the ICU staff—what they had planned.

After about five minutes, the “gunman” told the eight people whom he had lined up against the wall in the break room that the situation was just a drill. But he didn’t allow them to leave for another 10 minutes.

All of this took place last May 24. You can read more about it in these stories from the Las Vegas Sun and the Las Vegas Review-Journal. Astonishingly enough, it took almost a year before the first lawsuit was filed. That occurred just a couple of weeks ago. Three nurses and a respiratory therapist sued the hospital, the off-duty cop with the gun (Charles Yannis), hospital Chief Operating Officer Teressa Conley, and the three geniuses who came up with the idea, Bernard Jones, Kim Dokken, and Matthew Berhold.

Conley, incidentally, told the Sun after the incident that, because of the previous complaints about unrealistic drills, the three Emergency Management Committee members acted with “the best intentions” of making the drill lifelike and worthwhile.

As horrible as the experience was for the hospital staff, it could have been much, much worse. In Nevada, people with the proper permit are allowed to carry concealed weapons. Imagine what would have happened if a gun-toting good Samaritan had shot the police officer who—with an unloaded gun—was pretending to be a terrorist.

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