Skip to main content

All Access Subscription

Get unlimited access to our full publication and article library.

Get Access Now

Interested in Group Sales? Learn more

HI Cprevent logo small


This award-winning blog supplements the articles in Hospital Infection Control & Prevention.

An epidemic of a different sort: Hospitals not immune from gun violence

We stray off our typical infection prevention topics today to discuss an outbreak of another kind – one hospitals are certainly not immune to – gun violence and mass shootings.

The day after the horrific Dec. 14, 2012 shootings at an elementary school in Newtown, CT, a visitor -- who was reportedly upset over the cardiac care his wife received -- shot two employees and a police officer at St. Vincent’s Hospital in Birmingham, AL. before he was killed by another officer on the scene.

National grief over the Newtown massacre overshadowed the hospital shooting, but it underscored a reality: Every year, hospitals are the site of several shootings or other violent outbursts, the February 2013 issue of Hospital Employee Health reports.

Yet preventing hospital shootings is difficult because most cases involve “a determined shooter with a specific target,” according to an analysis of 154 shootings in the past 11 years.1

Johns Hopkins University researchers launched the study in hopes of developing prevention strategies in the wake of a 2010 shooting of a surgeon at the Baltimore, MD, hospital. The gunman was the distraught son of a cancer patient who blamed the surgeon for leaving his mother paralyzed. The surgeon survived, but the gunman shot and killed his mother and himself. The risk of such incidents is rare but real.

Lead author Gabor Kelen, MD, chair of emergency medicine, and his colleagues emphasized that although hospital shootings have become more frequent in the last six years, they remain rare events. About 3% of the nation’s hospitals experienced a shooting incident in the 12-year study period (2000-2011), which amounts to .2% per year. Put in a different perspective, the likelihood of encountering a hospital shooting is about the same as a death from lightning, the authors said.

Additional findings of the study include:

* One-third of the shootings that were inside hospitals occurred in the emergency department. Two in five of the incidents happened on hospital grounds, including the parking area (23%) or the ramp to the emergency department.

* Shootings happened in hospitals of all size, but they were more common in large hospitals (400 beds or more) than small hospitals.

* Incidents occurred in all regions of the country, although more happened in the South and fewer in the Northeast. Being in an inner-city or dangerous neighborhood did not appear to be a factor, the authors said.

-- Michele Marill, HEH editor

For more on this story see the next issue of our sister publication, HEH.


1. Kelen GD, Catlett CL, Kubit JG and Hsieh Y. Hospital-based shootings in the United States: 2000-2011. Ann Emerg Med 2012; 60:790-798.e1.