I was on my way to Gainesville Friday when the news hit. There was an active shooter at Bronx-Lebanon Hospital with multiple injuries. Oh no, not again. Violence in the healthcare industry occurs roughly four times as often as in other workplace environments. Of course this immediately caught my attention. I worked for a large hospital system for many years, and actually taught healthcare providers and their teams violence prevention and intervention strategies. I have delivered my share of critical incident stress debriefings, and I fully understand the crippling effects an event like this can have on any business, their employees and customers or patients. It’s chilling, especially the aftermath.
But then, if possible, the incident was worse than initially reported. As the news unfolded, the reports came in that the perpetrator was a disgruntled past employee, a doctor, who had left under unfavorable circumstances. The victims, they were doctors too, and residents, and medical students. There was one death, a female primary care physician, who had joined hospital about a year after the perpetrator left. There were multiple serious injuries. The stories of heroism during the event began to trickle in. A stethoscope used as a tourniquet. Others placing the injured in an elevator and sending them down to safety and care. These are the people, who save and enhance lives every day. Friday became a day wherein they were called to save their own.
This morning on the news it was reported that bystanders at the scene heard the perpetrator yelling, “Why didn’t you help me when I needed it?” Chilling. Extreme. Compelling. Obviously, this crazy, evil rampage is heart-wrenchingly inexcusable. Still the simple question, “Why didn’t you help me when I needed it,” keeps playing through my mind. “Why didn’t you help me when I needed it?”
Healthcare providers generally go into medicine because they want to take care of patients, heal and prevent suffering, which in turn creates stronger and healthier families, communities, and societies. It’s a nobel profession. That’s what they sign up for. It’s no easy feat, even for the smartest, strongest, and most capable. It’s stressful, time consuming, demanding work.
What happens to the healthcare provider when they struggle? The system is not well set up for transparency, ease of access to private and non-punitive interventions, or better yet, preventative strategies to address the provider’s needs in a positive way, before they get out of hand. Often doctors suffer in silence. They avoid dealing with stress and burnout as humanly possible. Some find health ways to cope. Some turn to alcohol or drugs. An estimated 300-400 per year commit suicide. Struggling clinicians are more likely to commit medical errors. Medical errors are estimated to be the third most common cause of death in the US.
It doesn’t have to be this way. Healthcare administrators and leaders can demonstrate care and compassion for their clinical staff. They can reach out and intervene before things get out of hand. Leaders can be taught to notice the signs of struggle, and then how to have the caring conversation and be a bridge to appropriate services. Confidential, strengths-based professional development coaching can keep valued physicians on the right track, while professional clinical intervention is available for those with depression and other mental health concerns. Caring for the care provider is essential if we want to create a healthy and productive work culture.
Hoffmann Coaching is your healthcare and business leadership Partner.
Terry Hoffmann MA, PCC, BCC provides executive coaching for elite professionals including physicians, healthcare executives, leaders and teams. She believes healthy care teams provide better patient care, with fewer medical errors, less interpersonal conflict, more professional satisfaction, and better outcomes for patients. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (904)343-6193.