It wasn’t long after a gunman opened fire at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood Airport that victims started trickling into the local trauma center. Thankfully, Broward Health was ready.
Just before 1 p.m. last Friday, 26-year-old Esteban Santiago shot 13 individuals in the lower level baggage claim area, killing five. About 20 minutes later, nearby Broward Health started receiving victims from the shooting. All told 54 were transported to the downtown Fort Lauderdale Level 1 trauma center, six for gunshot wounds, says Interim CEO Mark Sprada, R.N.
The rest suffered from ailments such as heatstroke or were in need of meds that were stowed away in their checked bags. Nine were initially admitted, but a week later, just three remain hospitalized, two whom were gunshot victims. One remains in critical condition, while a second is in serious condition.
Sprada says his staff was prepared for such circumstances, given his hospital’s proximity to a bustling city, an international airport and a large maritime industry.
“We take our readiness very seriously,” Sprada tells H&HN. “I’m very, very proud of our trauma team and our hospital staff. Of course, it’s the doctors and nurses, but it’s also the X-ray technicians, the radiologist and the patient-access person who’s registering people quickly so that we can care for them. I’m in awe of my staff. They did a wonderful job.”
Sprada credits that preparedness to disaster drills conducted with the airport and other community members. Plus, hospital incident-command systems have been standardized following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, and accreditation agencies like the Joint Commission require standard emergency procedures following such incidents. While Broward’s previous drills didn’t focus specifically on shootings, the lessons are still similar.
“Although we’re hearing a lot about shootings or an active shooter, the post-9/11 era helped prepare us for all these types of situations because your response is the same,” Sprada says. “Whether you have an influx of patients from a chemical spill, a bio-terrorism event, plane crash, a bus crash or a shooting, you still have to have your emergency personnel ready to go. The fortunate thing for hospitals is we’ve had these standards for a number of years.”
If there is anything that Broward didn’t quite expect, it was that this shooting was going to balloon into a national media event. After patients were cared for, they then had to tend to throngs of media, but Sprada says staff has risen to that occasion too. Thanks to lessons they learned from Florida peers after the Pulse nightclub shooting last year, Broward was also prepared for the possibility of a second shooter at the airport (which didn’t come to fruition after initial reports), and for the troves of friends and family that showed up to the hospital seeking information about loved ones.
As it aims to help prevent further such shootings in this era of prevention in health care, Sprada says the focus is on improving the mental health safety net. Hospitals nowadays are penalized when patients are readmitted within 30 days for certain conditions, and maybe the same should be applied for those suffering from ailments that aren’t physical. (Although it would’ve been difficult for Broward in this instance, as Santiago lived in Alaska.)
“I think that it’s no secret that the mental health care system in our country has a lot of opportunity. There’s still a stigma in reaching out for help,” Prada says. “I think that there’s a lot of opportunity to have that same level of rigor with our mental health population to make sure they’re getting the level of help and follow up that they need, because that seems to be the root cause of, at least, this incident.”
For more on how hospitals are working to both prevent and treat violence in their communities, be sure to check out the American Hospital Association’s resource page on the topic. Plus, watch for continuing coverage on the AHA’s Hospital’s Against Violence initiative in the print edition of Hospitals & Health Networks, and at hhnmag.com.