Johns Hopkins to host national symposium on hospital shootings

Johns Hopkins public health and emergency preparedness experts will host the first national symposium designed to help healthcare providers and staff better prepare for and react to an "active shooter" in hospitals and other healthcare settings.

The April 11 symposium will also explore the legal, moral, and ethical obligations of medical institutions and their staffs to protect patients when such events occur.

Law enforcement experts recommend that students, office workers, or others confronted with an "active shooter" decide on their own whether to run, hide, or fight, depending on their individual circumstances. But those choices don't address the complex responsibilities that healthcare providers have when caring for vulnerable patients, notes Gabor D. Kelen, director of the Johns Hopkins Office of Critical Event Preparedness and Response (CEPAR).

"If you are a doctor or nurse and there is an armed person firing a weapon on your floor, what should you do if you have patients who can't run, hide or fight?" Kelen says. The appropriate actions of frontline staff members not trained in law enforcement are undefined, he notes.

Jonathan Links, director of the Center for Public Health Preparedness and deputy director of CEPAR, says the challenges for caregivers have emerged as a compelling public health issue because of a spate of hospital shootings in recent years—including an incident at Johns Hopkins Hospital in September 2010—and because there is no clear national consensus on provider responsibilities. Clarity on the issue will bolster the "readiness, willingness, and ability" of healthcare workers to respond appropriately during a shooting incident, Links says.

The symposium will feature national experts in medicine, law, ethics, hospital security, and law enforcement who will present research findings and innovative ideas relevant to the issue.

In addition, a consensus panel will convene to discuss ideas for a potential set of guidelines that hospital leaders nationwide could use to shape their own institutions' policies regarding healthcare providers' response to active shooters.
 The panel will be facilitated by Eric Goralnick, medical director of emergency preparedness at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, who responded to the Boston Marathon bombing, and Leonard Marcus, co-director of the National Preparedness Leadership Initiative, a collaborative effort of the Harvard School of Public Health and the Harvard Kennedy School.

Presenters include Kelen and Christina Catlett, associate director of CEPAR. Kelen and Catlett co-authored a groundbreaking study on hospital shootings published in 2012 in the Annals of Emergency Medicine.

"This is a tough issue to tackle," Kelen says. "But leaders at Johns Hopkins and in medicine across the nation are determined to find solutions that best serve our patients."1