Study: Hospital shootings are rare, hard to prevent

About one in three hospital shootings occurred in the ED

An individual is more likely to be struck by lightning than be shot in a hospital or in its parking lot, according to a study in the Annals of Emergency Medicine.

To assess the frequency and preventability of hospital shootings, Johns Hopkins researchers combed through newspaper articles and news releases on hospital shootings published between Jan. 1, 2000, and Dec. 31, 2011.

They found that 3% of U.S. acute-care hospitals experienced at least one shooting during the 11-year period. Altogether, the 154 hospital shootings resulted in 235 injuries or deaths, and:

  • 59% occurred inside the hospital, with about half of those shootings occurring in the ED; and
  • 41% occurred on hospital grounds.

The study notes that 23% of ED shootings involved a shooter taking a hospital security guard's gun.

According to the findings, about 30% to 36% of the shootings could have been prevented if the hospital had used metal detectors.

Lead author Gabor Kelen—director of Johns Hopkins Department of Emergency Medicine—explains that hospital shootings may be difficult to prevent because they often involve a "determined shooter." Common motives for hospital shootings were revenge, suicide, or euthanizing an ill relative—sometimes referred to as a mercy killing.

The report was published two years after a September 2010 shooting at a Johns Hopkins facility, in which a man shot and killed his 84-year-old mother, shot her physician (who survived), and then committed suicide (Walker, "Picture of Health," Baltimore Sun, 9/19; Barr, Modern Healthcare, 9/19 [subscription required]).


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