October 30, 2018

'You lead by example': Why Allegheny General Hospital's Jewish president met the accused synagogue shooter

Daily Briefing

    When the gunman accused of killing 11 and injuring six in a shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue Saturday arrived at Allegheny General Hospital's (AGH) ED for treatment, he was shouting anti-Semitic slurs, according to AGH President Jeffrey Cohen. What the accused gunman didn't know was that members of the team keeping him alive—an ED doctor and a nurse—were Jewish, according to Cohen, who is Jewish and a member of the congregation the suspect attacked.

    From shootings to hurricanes: How can your hospital prepare for disasters?

    11 die in synagogue shooting

    According to police, Robert Bowers, the suspect in Saturday's shooting, entered the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh armed with an assault rifle and three handguns. According to reports, Bowers opened fire on congregants who had gathered for Saturday morning service.

    Police arrived as Bowers tried to leave the synagogue. Bowers exchanged gunfire with police and then barricaded himself inside a room. Bowers eventually surrendered to police. As he surrendered, Bowers said he "wanted all Jews to die," according to a criminal complaint from the Pittsburgh police.

    Federal officials charged Bowers with 29 criminal counts, including obstructing the free exercise of religious beliefs and using a firearm to commit murder. Those crimes could carry the death penalty.

    The state of Pennsylvania also has charged Bowers with 30 counts, including criminal homicide and ethnic intimidation.

    Providers at AGH treat accused gunman

    After Bowers surrendered, he was transported to a hospital to receive treatment for the gunshot wounds he sustained in the standoff with police.

    At about 11:30 a.m. Saturday, Bowers arrived at AGH, where he continued to shout anti-Semitic remarks, the Pittsburg Business Times reports.

    Cohen, a member of the Tree of Life synagogue, said when Bowers was brought to AGH he was "shouting, 'I want to kill all the Jews!' and the first three people who are taking care of him are Jewish." Cohen said, "The nurse that took care of him, his father is a rabbi in the South Hills; the doctor who was in charge of his care is a Jew. The president of the hospital, I'm Jewish."

    Cohen, who lives about 50 yards from the Tree of Life Congregation, said the ED physician and RN were put in a difficult situation but they acted professionally and treated Bowers as if he were any other patient.

    Overall, Cohen said Bowers received care from doctors, midlevel personnel, techs, and between 10 and 15 nurses—none of whom asked to be removed from the assignment. Cohen said, "I will tell you that I'm very proud of them. They did a great job. They answered the bell."

    But the care came at a price. Cohen noted the RN who treated Bowers later broke into tears. Cohen said he took time to speak with the nurse and thank him for his work. Cohen said, "I told him how proud I was. He went home and hugged his parents."

    Cohen said providers are committed to caring for those who are injured and sick no matter the circumstance. "It's hard," Cohen said. "You have this internal debate with yourself. Am I going to do what is right? And you do. You do what you think is right. The mission here is taking care of people." Cohen added, "We're here to take care of sick people. We're not here to judge you."

    Cohen, who knew nine of the members of the Tree of Life congregations who died, said he spoke with Bowers, whom police guarded as he received treatment in isolation. Cohen said, "I just asked how he was doing, was he in pain, and he said no, he was fine. He asked who I was, and I said, 'I'm Dr. Cohen, the president of the hospital,' and I turned around and left."

    As the president of the hospital, Cohen noted the importance of leadership under the circumstance. "I thought it was important to at least talk to him and meet him," Cohen said. "You can't on one hand say we should talk to each other, and then I don't talk to him. So you lead by example, and I'm the leader of the hospital."

    Accused gunman leaves hospital

    On Monday at 9:45 a.m., Bowers was released from the hospital to federal authorities who took him to a federal court, where a judge ruled he be held without bail until a preliminary hearing on Thursday, Time reports. Bowers did not enter a plea.

    According to Time, prosecutors on Thursday will frame their case against Bowers. Federal prosecutors have already taken steps to seek the death penalty for Bowers (Rosenburg, Washington Post, 10/30; Gough, Pittsburgh Business Times, 10/29; Ruiz-Grossman, HuffPost, 10/29; Fábregas, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, 10/29; Time, 10/29).

    From shootings to hurricanes: How can your hospital prepare for disasters?

    Hospitals must be prepared for myriad disasters that can stress health care systems to the breaking point and disrupt delivery of vital health care services.

    Advisory Board has compiled step-by-step procedures for various threats your facility may encounter—though we hope you'll never need to use them.

    Download the Resources

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