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Pediatrician shot and killed at medical office in Austin

Rep. Joe Courtney (D-Ct.) is reintroducing a bill to help curb workplace violence in the healthcare sector to the 117th Congress next week.

Susan Morse, Managing Editor

In the latest incidence of workplace violence within the healthcare industry, a 43-year old female doctor was shot and killed by another physician at Children's Medical Group in Austin, Texas on Tuesday afternoon.

Pediatrician Dr. Katherine Lindley Dodson, 43, died from a gunshot wound that Austin police believe was inflicted by Dr. Bharat Narumanchi, 43. Narumanchi died from an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound, according to the police report. No motive was given for the attack.

When Austin Police SWAT officers made entry to the medical office building, they found the bodies of Drs. Dodson and Narumanchi inside.

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Narumanchi did not work at Children's Medical Group, but had been there a week earlier to apply for a volunteer position that he reportedly did not get. He was a pediatrician who had been recently diagnosed with terminal cancer, according to the police report. 

Other than the visit to the office the week before, there did not appear to be any relation or other contact between Dr. Dodson and Dr. Narumanchi, police said.  
 
In the 911 call, Austin police received a report that a male subject had entered the medical building with a gun and was holding hostages inside. As the incident began to unfold, it was learned that several hostages were being held. Several hostages initially escaped and others were later allowed to leave with the exception of Dr. Dodson. 
 
Hostages told officers that Narumanchi was armed with a pistol and what appeared to be a shotgun and had two duffel bags.   
 
Hostage negotiators arrived on scene and attempted to make contact with Dr. Narumanchi, to no avail, police said. After several attempts, it was decided to make entry into the building. It appeared that Dr. Narumanchi shot himself after shooting Dr. Dodson. The case is under investigation.

WHY THIS MATTERS

Workplace violence in healthcare is an ongoing issue, and the loss of Dodson is particularly tragic. 

In a 2015 report the Occupational Safety and Health Administration stated that "healthcare and social assistance workers experienced 7.8 cases of serious workplace violence injuries per 10,000 full-time equivalents in 2013. Other large sectors such as construction, manufacturing, and retail all had fewer than two cases per 10,000 FTEs."

Another report released by the American Hospital Association called the 2020 Environmental Scan, showed the rate of intentional injuries by others in 2017 to be 9.1 per 10,000 for healthcare and social assistance workers and 1.9 per 10,000 for all private industry.

One statistic that stands out is that nearly half of ER physicians said they've been physically assaulted at work and 71% have personally witnessed others being assaulted during their shifts. Since the most recent data is from 2017, the effect of COVID-19 is not included in these figures.

Most incidents of physical and verbal assaults are from patients to staff, according to National Nurses United head Michelle Mahon, assistant director of nursing practice for the professional association of registered nurses. 

The issue has been exacerbated by the challenges of COVID-19, according to Mahon, who has said much of it could be prevented by ending staffing shortages.

EFFORTS

Rep. Joe Courtney (D-Ct.) is reintroducing a bill to curb workplace violence in the healthcare sector to the 117th Congress next week, according to information released by his office.

HR 1309, the Workplace Violence Prevention for Health Care and Social Service Workers Act proposed by Courtney, was passed in the House in 2019 after seven years of effort. It did not pass the Senate. 

"Joe is confident about our prospects headed into this year," his spokesman said. 

National Nurses United supports the legislation that would create federal prevention standards not only for hospitals, but also for facilities such as Veterans' Affairs, the Indian Health Service and home-based hospice. The law would require OSHA to develop workplace-violence-prevention standards that would include, among other mandates, that IV poles be stationary so they're not able to be used as weapons.

The bill directs OSHA to issue new standards requiring healthcare and social service employers to write and implement a workplace-violence-prevention plan to prevent and protect employees from violent incidents and assaults at work.

Twitter: @SusanJMorse
Email the writer: susan.morse@himssmedia.com

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