The Tulsa Hospital Shooting and America’s Epidemic of Violence Against Health Care Workers

What does that action look like? Above all, we need stronger federal gun laws. Federal legislation should designate all medical clinics and hospitals as gun-free zones. America remains armed to the teeth, with close to 400 million guns in circulation and as many as 20 million new guns purchased each year. There is no solution to the gun violence epidemic beyond the difficult, politically charged steps that we all know are needed: The manufacture, purchase, ownership, and carrying of firearms must be heavily regulated, and incentives for the buyback or destruction of existing firearms are critical. But we also need to stop looking past the issue of violence toward caregivers. Those of us in health care must speak up and advocate for systemic change.

There are numerous proposed laws aimed at protecting health care workers stalled in state legislatures around the country. Many outline fines and sentences for the physical assault of health care workers, akin to protections afforded police officers and flight attendants. More than these policies, though, those who work in health care need their employers to take action.

Every hospital employee should have a silent alarm with them and know that help is quickly accessible if they need it. Every patient and visitor must be thoroughly searched for weapons at medical facility entrances. In a single year, the Cleveland clinic confiscated nearly 30,000 potential weapons from patients and visitors after implementing this type of policy, including guns, knives, box cutters, and pepper-spray canisters. These weapons have no place in health care settings. Finally, reporting systems for violence must be made frictionless, recognizing that the ones in place today are too time consuming and onerous for thinly stretched staff to take seriously. And this data must be acted upon. Facilities and units with high incidences of violence against nurses, techs, and physicians must in turn be staffed appropriately with police, both uniformed and in plain clothes, and mental health workers trained in de-escalation.