A domestic violence attack on the Deaconess Hospital campus that left two dead Tuesday is the latest in a growing number of similar workplace shootings nationwide.
The Spokane shooting remains under investigation as authorities dissect what led to the murder-suicide.
The tragic trend is why authorities think requests for workplace violence prevention training in the public and private sectors have increased.
“I think the general community is becoming more aware of these critical incidences, and that they want to be more prepared,” said Spokane County Sheriff’s Office Sgt. Jack Rosenthal, who provides training through work and privately. “The populace is becoming more aware of this danger. The feeling of the necessity of being prepared is stronger than it used to be in the past.”
He added, the “training varies everywhere from day cares to hospitals to private businesses … anywhere there is a large population of people.”
Details of Tuesday’s murder-suicide at the Rockwood Cancer Treatment Center inside Deaconess remains under investigation by the Spokane Police Department.
The incident began to unfold about 9:30 a.m. when a man went up to the seventh floor where his wife was working in a lab. He shot and killed her then turned the gun on himself, police said. The man died a short time later in the hospital’s emergency room.
The man has not been identified. Social media indicates the woman is Sheena Henderson. The couple had two children under the age of 10, police said.
“This incident is both a family and community tragedy,” Spokane police Chief Frank Straub said in a news release. Police “will thoroughly investigate this incident and continue to work closely with our law enforcement and community partners to address issues associated with domestic violence.”
When the man entered the lab, there were very few other people around, and “the people there did all the right things,” said Monique Cotton, a Spokane police spokeswoman.
Rockwood Health System, which operates Deaconess, released a statement late Tuesday afternoon thanking first responders and its staff. Counseling is being provided to employees, the statement said. All Rockwood Clinic and Deaconess Hospital services remain open.
An average of 551 workers a year died in work-related homicides from 2006 though 2010, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In 2010, there were 518 work-related homicides, which accounted for 11 percent of all fatal work injuries, the bureau’s report said. Shootings accounted for 78 percent of those homicides. According to preliminary data from the bureau, 375 workers were killed in shootings while on the job in 2012. Robbers were the assailants in 33 percent of the workplace homicides involving shootings in 2012, while co-workers accounted for 13 percent.
“As much as we don’t want to put in our mind that we have to prepare for such incidents, we do,” Rosenthal said. “One of the big things I tell people is to be aware of your surroundings – eyes wide open. Nothing is ever going to be fail-safe. If someone is motivated and dedicated to do something, it’s going to be difficult to stop that.”
Public agencies and private businesses most likely have individual policies and procedures, such as no guns on the premises, armed security guards, camera-operated surveillance or keycard entry systems.
“Health care environments are like small cities. On a daily basis, we have a population the size of a small city. We have multiple access points. We have electronic lockdown points. We have threat assessment and proactive measures,” said Ryan Nelson, security manager for Providence Sacred Heart, Spokane’s largest hospital.
Deaconess officials did not reply to requests for information.
Nelson insists good communication with people at work is key. He suggests speaking with co-workers, security, human resources and managers if there is violence at home.
The hospital also teaches “Run, Hide, Fight,” in the case of a shooter. “If you can’t run or hide then you absolutely must fight,” Nelson said. The hospital is launching two video training programs later this year to help employees: One is about workplace violence, including domestic violence. The other one deals with an active shooter, someone who is spraying bullets.
Security measures are always evolving and improving, hospital officials said.
“We’ve learned time and time again that reacting to violence isn’t the way to go,” Nelson said. “We are responsible for our employees and we owe it to them to keep them safe not only at work, but also at home.”
For any workplace, authorities can play a critical role by informing people about what to do, and asking people to be aware, Rosenthal said. “Be vigilant about what’s happening around you. Do reality-based training, you’ll at least have the incident in your mind and have an idea what to do.”