I hope I never have to write a blog about a shooting. The recent school shooting in Florida is horrible and tragic, and an event that should never occur again.
I also never thought I’d be writing a blog about lice. Our recent lice incident is a far cry from a shooting, but both are workplace safety issues. Our lice problem resulted from a trespasser – assumed to be a homeless person – who gained access to the PATH Building over a weekend a month ago . Urine was noted in waste cans in several offices, items were missing, and there were soiled lab coats. Additionally, small insects were discovered that were eventually identified as lice. By the end of the first day, members of the department had been bitten, and others were bitten in the days that followed. Understandably, there was a lot of insecurity and uncertainty about safe work locations and whether cleaning was sufficient. Overall, it was a very upsetting event for everyone in the building, especially those infected.
If there could ever be a silver lining to a lice infestation, it was the wake-up call that our home away from home is vulnerable, and that we all need to be aware and work together to support safety for ourselves and our colleagues at work. We need to notice and report if doors don’t lock or close properly. When people without badges try to enter our building, we all need to ask for identification or report their entry to the supervisors of the UCD police. We need to be observant and vigilant. We are all responsible for each other.
A few years ago, there was a tragic church shooting in Charleston, SC. Not long afterward, I was attending Sunday services in my own church. A young man walked in midway through the service and sat in the row behind me. He was a stranger to the congregation and carried a skateboard and backpack. I’m sad to admit that I couldn’t help but wonder if he had a gun in his backpack and if he was there to take some sort of revenge, as had happened in Charleston. I gave some thought to what I would do if a shooting occurred – where I would seek cover, or how I might escape, and whether I would confront him. Never before had I given such things serious consideration, but this sort of planning is encouraged by safety officers, and something everyone should think about in their own work environment or other vulnerable places. Needless to say nothing happened in church that day –this young man was likely just curious. Or maybe he was seeking a moment of solace, as a church is intended to do. For this reason, a place of worship would never lock its doors to keep visitors out of a service. Likewise, a hospital – including the pathology department — needs to think about its mission to serve others, which includes a responsibility to the community for access by patients, as well as access by clinical colleagues to support team-based patient care.
In response to our recent trespassing incident, we have had a security evaluation of our building. The new Director of Security Richard Cinfio shared findings and potential methods to increase building security at our last faculty meeting. Many of these involve limiting the number of entrances to the building so that access is only possible through one or two doors rather four, changing the hours in which the building is locked (?perhaps all day long) and/or requiring key card access to the office and technical wings. We plan to have a committee of faculty, housestaff, and administrative and technical staff review the options provided by the security team, and make recommendations to me regarding what changes to pursue. It will be important to consider how increased security will affect convenience for our daily work, and the need for access by clinicians and patients. We will hopefully find that sweet spot that provides sufficient safety and security for those who work here while meeting our mission to be accessible to those who need us.
Lastly, it is important to remember that the biggest threats in the work environment do not come from the outside, but come from within. Academic pathology has its own sad history of insider workplace violence – in 2000, the University of Washington’s residency program director in pathology, Roger Haggitt MD, was shot by a resident (1). William Hunter MD, director of the pathology residency program at Creighton University, was murdered along with his family by a former resident in 2008 (2). Members of our own department have been threatened, once by a housestaff member, and once by a former technologist who later was convicted of murdering her husband. Locked doors and key cards won’t stop the threats from within.
Security director Richard Cinfio recommends the power of ESP to prevent these internal threats. Mr. Cinfio is not referring to extrasensory perception — i.e, that feeling when something just doesn’t feel right – though I think there is something to be said for this type of ESP. Mr. Cinfio has a unique definition of ESP: Empathy, Safety and respect for People. This type of ESP addresses important root causes of workplace violence. We need to count on each other to use ESP in all its forms, and practice vigiliance, awareness, empathy, safety and respect for others. The efforts of all will ensure that we continue to be known as a wonderful place to have a career, thanks to a safe environment and caring, committed colleagues.