Pharmacy manager's murder was disaster

Friend & colleague was tragically killed at work

Pharmacists and staff at Florida hospitals are well prepared for the disasters wrought by 100-mile-per-hour winds, rain, and hurricanes. But pharmacists and hospital staff at Shands Jacksonville Medical Center in Jacksonville, FL, could never have prepared themselves emotionally for the tragedy of the on-site murder of a friend and co-worker.

Sharron McCants, age 37 and pregnant with her third child, was shot and killed by Brenda Coney in November, 2006, according to newspaper accounts of Coney's first-degree murder trial. Coney was convicted in September, 2008.1

Coney had been a client of the hospital's stand-alone, ambulatory pharmacy, located near the hospital's emergency room. Trial testimony portrayed the killer as a paranoid schizophrenic who had not been taking her medication.1

But the "why" details were the very least of the hospital management's concerns on the morning pharmacy manager McCants died.

The murder was an incredibly traumatic event for McCants' many friends and co-workers in the pharmacy, and crisis counseling support was needed. Also, the pharmacy was closed, and a plan had to be developed about when and how to re-open it. New safety measures needed to be taken, as well.

Shands Jacksonville handled the crisis in such a competent and heroic way that the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists (ASHP) presented the staff with the Executive Vice President's Award for Courageous Service in July, 2008.

"We are a level 1 trauma center hospital, and we deal with disasters on a regular basis at the hospital," says Thanh Hogan, PharmD, director of pharmacy at Shands Jacksonville.

"We go through regular training for disasters, and after 9/11, we were a primary hospital for first responders," Hogan says. "When this occurred, the hospital leadership immediately responded and responded in a way that I don't know of any other hospital that could pull things together so quickly."

Within minutes of the shooting, Hogan was at the site, along with other administrators. Within an hour, hospital support staff, including a chaplain, were there, as well, Hogan says.

"We had security blocking everything off and securing the scene," she adds. "We had the facilities crew roping things off."

The hospital's preparation and practice dealing with natural disasters had helped when this tragedy occurred, Hogan notes.

"We've learned to deal with crises, although this was one that no one had ever expected," she says.

The entire hospital pulled together to help the pharmacy staff deal with the emotional and physical aftermath of the tragedy.

"I just remember all of us coming together right after the event occurred," says Karen Malcolm, PharmD, manager of the ambulatory pharmacy.

"When the shooting occurred, it occurred in the morning, so the pharmacy was closed for the day," Malcolm says. "We went to a common meeting place in a big auditorium, and we received updates from the leadership."

Each employee in the pharmacy, including Malcolm, was contacted by a counselor.

"We had counselors holding people's hands, letting them cry on their shoulders, squeezing their hands, and talking with them," Hogan says.

In another room, employees gathered as a group to talk about what happened, with a counselor present, she says.

In yet a third room, Hogan and a vice president discussed the pharmacy operations and what would need to be done that day and in the immediate future.

The pharmacy serves underprivileged patients, filling on average 1,500-1,800 prescriptions in an eight-hour day, Hogan notes.

"We fill more prescriptions there than your average 24-hour pharmacy in any one given day," Hogan says. "We have inside the pharmacy 6-8 pharmacists."

While many businesses suffering such a tragic loss might close for the rest of the week, this action could have a severe impact on the pharmacy's many clients, who depended on it for medication to treat chronic diseases.

Malcolm and other pharmacy staff met shortly after the tragedy to discuss what the pharmacy's operations would look like. They asked and tried to answer these questions:

  • What kind of security will we need to help us?
  • How many patients could we serve?
  • Who would show up the next day?
  • Will you be here tomorrow or not?

"We needed to tell the leadership what realistically we could pull off and let Thanh know from the perspective of all pharmacists what additional resources we would need from the department of pharmacy," Malcolm says.

The pharmacy team decided they would return to work the next day because their clients needed them, she says.

"It was so monumental what the staff did, and Karen was right in the middle of it, and so humble about it," Hogan recalls.

"In the midst of all the tears and fears from what happened, the employees were so dedicated to the patients that they kept asking what they needed to do to take care of all the other patients, those who truly needed their services."

Fighting through their tears, they came up with a plan for how to open the pharmacy doors the next day, she adds.

The biggest lesson the hospital leadership learned from this experience was that it was a team effort to get the work done, Hogan says.

"The team was grieving together while working together," Hogan says. "Every staff member committed to walking through the door and doing what they had to do, and they did it — but they needed support from each other."

Reference

  1. Coney guilty of killing pharmacy manager. News4Jax.com. Sept. 18, 2008. Available at: www.news4jax.com.