The Newtown, Conn School Massacre [Lessons to Learn?]

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REPRINT: This re-publication is provided as a service to our readers, as we mourn the children and victims of the Newtown, Conn massacre. The workplace – healthcare setting analogy is self-evident.

Hospital Workplace Violence Risk Factors

[An NIOSH Summary and Review]

By Dr. Eugene Schmuckler MBA CTS

By Dr. David Edward Marcinko MBA CMP™

Domestically, the impact of workplace violence in the US became widely exposed on November 6, 2009 when 39 year old Army psychiatrist Maj. Nidal M. Hasan MD, a 1997 graduate of Virginia Tech University who received a medical doctorate in psychiatry from the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda, Maryland, and served as an intern, resident and fellow at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in the District of Columbia, went on a savage 100 round shooting spree and rampage that killed 13 people and injured 32 others.

In April 2010 he was transferred to Bell County Jail in Belton, Texas. An Article 32 hearing, which determined whether Hasan would be fit to stand trial at court martial, began on 12 October 2010. Hasan subsequently deemed fit, was arraigned on July 20 2011 and trial was scheduled for March 2012. It was rescheduled again, but is now ongoing and in the news; almost daily.


The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) summarizes the risk factors for occupational violence to hospital workers. These include:

  • working directly with volatile people, especially if they are under the influence of drugs or alcohol or have a history of violence or certain psychotic diagnoses;
  • working when understaffed — especially during meal times or visiting hours;
  • transporting patients and long waits for service;
  • overcrowded, uncomfortable waiting rooms;
  • working alone;
  • poor environmental design;
  • inadequate and/or ineffective security;
  • lack of staff training and policies for preventing or managing crises with potentially volatile patients;
  • drug and alcohol abuse;
  • access to firearms;
  • unrestricted movement of the public; and
  • poorly lit corridors, rooms, parking lots, and other areas.

Occupational Violence 

Violence occurring in other occupational groups is most often related to robbery. In healthcare settings, however, acts of violence are most often perpetrated by patients or clients. Family members who feel frustrated, vulnerable, and out of control; and colleagues of patients (especially when the patient is a gang member) are also identified as perpetrators of abuse! However, the presence of co-workers has been identified as a potential deterrent to assault in healthcare.

Healthcare and social service workers face an increased risk of work-related assaults stemming from several factors, including:

  • the prevalence of handguns and other weapons — as high as 25% among patients, their families, and friends. Handguns are increasingly used by police and the criminal justice system for criminal holds and the care of acutely disturbed, violent individuals;
  • the increasing number of acute and chronically mentally ill patients now being released from hospitals without follow-up care, who now have the right to refuse medicine and who can no longer be hospitalized involuntarily unless they pose an immediate threat to themselves or others;
  • the availability of drugs or money at hospitals, clinics, and pharmacies, making staff and patients likely robbery targets;
  • situational and circumstantial factors such as:
    • unrestricted movement of the public in clinics and hospitals;
    • the increasing presence of gang members, drug or alcohol abusers, trauma patients, or distraught family members;
    • long waits in emergency or clinic areas, leading to client frustration over an inability to obtain needed services promptly;
  • low staffing levels during times of specific increased activity such as meal times, visiting times, and when staff is transporting patients. This also includes isolated work with clients during examinations or treatment;
  • solo work, often in remote locations, particularly in high crime settings, with no back up or means of obtaining assistance such as communication devices or alarm systems;
  • lack of training of staff in recognizing and managing escalating hostile and assaultive behavior; and
  • poorly lighted parking areas.


The Guidelines established by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) seek to set forth procedures leading to the elimination or reduction of worker exposure to conditions causing death or injury from violence by implementing effective security devices and administrative work practices, among other control measures. Healthcare professionals need to be aware that violence can occur anywhere and in any practice settings.

In hospitals and clinics, which are more likely to report incidents of violence than private offices, the most frequent sites are:

  • psychiatric wards;
  • acute care settings;
  • critical care units;
  • community health agencies;
  • homes for special care;
  • emergency rooms; and
  • waiting rooms and geriatric units.


The impact of workplace violence is far-reaching and affects individual staff members, co-workers, patients/clients, and their families. Those who have been affected, directly or indirectly, by a workplace violence incident report a broad spectrum of responses — anger is the most common. There are also reports of:

  • difficulty returning to work;
  • decreased job performance;
  • changes in relationships with co-workers;
  • sleep pattern disturbance;
  • helplessness and symptoms for post-traumatic stress disorders;
  • fear of other patients; and
  • fear of returning to the scene of the assault.


Link: Chapter 07: Workplace Violence

More: Medical Workplace Violence

BREAKING NEWS: 3 shot in Alabama hospital *** Two die in Nev. hotel shooting


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8 Responses

  1. Historical Note

    More than two decades before the above incident, in Edmond, Oklahoma, Patrick Henry Sherrill, an employee of the US Postal Service, angered by perceived injustices against him by his employers, shot and killed fourteen people, wounded six and then killed himself in 1986.

    This shocking event added the term “going postal” to our lexicon.

    Dr. David Edward Marcinko MBA CMP™


  2. Amy Bishop PhD

    Harvard trained biology professor in Alabama university shooting rampage pleads guilty.



  3. Drs. Schmuckler and Marcinko,

    Many thanks for this reprint. Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families, at this time of un-speakable grief.



    [Police kill gunman who wounds three at Alabama hospital]

    Detectives are still trying to determine why the armed man was in the Birmingham hospital.

    Ann Miller RN MHA


  5. More Related News!

    Gunfire panics California mall.

    Will this senseless violence never end?



  6. Ann,

    Our prayers go out to all those at St. Vincent’s Hospital in Birmingham.



  7. Comparing Spending by Gun Rights and Gun Control Interest Groups

    When it comes to influencing elections and lobbying Congress, who’s got the upper hand?



  8. How Many People Have Been Killed by Guns Since Newtown?

    The answer to this simple question is surprisingly hard to come by.



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