As we continue to feel shocked and outraged by the horrific shootings across the country in the last few weeks, our community has been rocked yet again with Wednesday’s news of a patient killing two physicians, one team member and one patient at a hospital in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
This senseless act of violence hits home in two distinct, but related, ways. The first is our grave concern about gun violence. Gun violence is a leading cause of premature death in the United States. As a result, both the American Medical Association and the AAMC have declared firearm-related violence a public health crisis. Closer to home, our own Dr. Michel Aboutanos, who serves as the medical director of the VCU Injury & Violence Prevention Program, stood alongside Mayor Levar Stoney last year as he made a similar declaration about gun violence in our city.
The tragedy in Tulsa also reflects the very real risk of violence that physicians and health care professionals face every day. According to estimates from the World Health Organization, as many as 38% of those in our profession experience physical violence at some point in their careers, with many more being threatened with verbal aggression. As troubling as this figure is, it may underestimate the threat U.S. health care workers face. The U.S. Occupational Health and Safety Administration notes that while health care “accounts for nearly as many serious violent injuries as all other industries combined … many more assaults or threats go unreported.” We are too well aware of this because so many of us have experienced it firsthand.
No one should live in fear while they are supporting our mission and caring for our community. Because of this, VCU Health has undertaken a number of violence-prevention initiatives and security enhancements since 2016, including installing metal detectors in both our adult and pediatric emergency departments; bolstering visitor screening, badging and tracking processes; adding flags for violence risk to our electronic medical record; and creating a zero-tolerance culture. In addition, the Virginia General Assembly strengthened protections for health care workers in 2019 by making it a class 1 misdemeanor to threaten to kill or harm them while they are rendering care in a hospital, emergency department or other clinical facility.
To truly protect everyone in our community, we must also pursue an end to this plague of violence. A first step is conducting research so we can establish an evidence-based public health response that addresses the underlying social, economic and systemic factors that promote gun violence. Programs such as the RVA Gun Violence Prevention Framework are already working to identify the behaviors and signs of gun violence to inform solutions that will prevent shots from ever being fired.
With everything that has happened over the last few weeks, it’s OK to not be OK. If you need help or additional support, please reach out to:
- University Counseling Services – Students may access 1-1 counseling sessions. Appointments can be made here.
- VCU Employee Assistance Program (VCU faculty and staff)
- VCUHS HelpLink Employee Assistance Program (VCU Health System team members, including medical residents)
Please take care of yourself and each other so that as a community, we can work to end this epidemic of violence.