Two hospital workers at Methodist Dallas Medical Center were killed on Saturday after a man attending the birth of his child opened fire in the labor and delivery unit of the hospital, raising concerns over increasing violence towards health care workers in the United States.
According to Dallas Chief of Police Eddie Garcia, the suspect, Nestor Hernandez, arrived at the hospital at 10:21 a.m. to visit a patient in labor and delivery. According to NBC 5, Hernandez had previously been in prison and was out on parole, but was granted permission to be with his partner at the hospital while she gave birth.
Hernandez had been sentenced to eight years in prison for aggravated assault and was released after serving six years. Hernandez was then arrested in March for a parole violation, released to his parole officer in April, and was again arrested in June for another parole violation. He was then released in September with an ankle monitor.
A warrant obtained by WFAA states that Hernandez was "acting strangely" before the shooting and accused his girlfriend of infidelity. Hernandez started searching the closet and bathroom for someone else who might have been in the room, then produced a weapon from his pants and struck his girlfriend multiple times.
Hernandez then sat on a couch in the room and allegedly told his girlfriend "we are both going to die today" and "whoever comes in this room is going to die with us," the warrant says.
Soon after, Jacqueline Pokuaa entered the room to provide routine care to the patient and was shot by Hernandez. Katie Flowers, another hospital employee, heard the gunfire and looked into the room when she was also shot by Hernandez. Both Pokuaa and Flowers later died from their injuries.
Methodist Health Sgt. Robert Rangel heard gunfire and shot Hernandez in the leg as Hernandez was attempting to leave the patient's room. Hernandez went back into the room and barricaded himself until he eventually surrendered. He was then stabilized and moved to a different hospital for treatment and remains in an unknown condition. Hernandez has been charged with capital murder of multiple persons.
According to Garcia, the woman Hernandez assaulted was treated for her injuries and the newborn child, who was in the room at the time of the shooting, was not injured.
In a statement, Methodist Health said, "The Methodist Health System Family is heartbroken at the loss of two of our beloved team members. Our entire organization is grieving this unimaginable tragedy."
Serena Bumpus, CEO of the Texas Nurses Association, said the shooting at Methodist Health is "unacceptable," noting that data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics shows workplace violence increased during the pandemic and nurses face three times greater risk of violence than "all other professions."
"No person should fear for their life for merely going to work, especially a nurse or health care worker whose passion is to help others heal," Bumpus said. "We hope our legislators understand that we need to protect our health care workers."
Robyn Begley, SVP of the American Hospital Association (AHA) and CNO and CEO of the American Organization for Nursing Leadership (AONL) said the organizations "stand with our colleagues as they grieve the loss of their friends and coworkers. Health care workers should never have to worry for their personal safety, especially while caring for a patient. AHA and AONL continue to work collectively with the health care community and policymakers to finds solutions to mitigate workplace violence."
In a statement, Methodist Health said safety on their campuses is "of paramount concern and is evaluated on an ongoing basis and anytime an issue occurs." Police staffing will be increased at Dallas Medical Center "out of an abundance of caution," Methodist Health said.
Garcia said someone with Hernandez's criminal history should never have been freed and that someone requiring an ankle monitor should likely still be in custody.
"As I've stated publicly before … in my opinion, this is a failure of the criminal justice system," Garcia said. "A violent individual such as this should not have been on an ankle monitor and should have remained in custody." (NBC 5, 10/24; Sentendrey, FOX 4, 10/23; Hamasaki et al., CNN, 10/24; Deliso/Hutchinson, ABC News, 10/24; AHA News, 10/24)
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