6101 Pine Ridge Road, Naples, FL
NAPLES — One day after a shooter killed his estranged wife while she visited a patient at Physicians Regional-Pine Ridge, hospital officials say they are reviewing their emergency protocols for patient and public safety.
Statewide, hospitals this past spring were urged to address workplace violence beyond the emergency room and look at hospital-wide safety, according to an April 1 letter sent out from the Florida Hospital Association.
Part of that discussion is whether metal detectors should be used by in-house security to screen patients and visitors in emergency rooms for weapons, according to workplace violence training guidelines sent out by the FHA.
So far, Southwest Florida hospital officials have decided against that measure.
Early Tuesday evening, Jeffrey Moretz, of Golden Gate Estates, shot and killed his estranged wife, Christine Moretz, 53, as she visited a patient at Physicians Regional before turning the gun on himself. The 54-year-old shooter survived and was air-lifted by helicopter out of the area to another hospital.
“Although we believe that (Tuesday’s) tragedy was an act of violence targeted at a particular individual, our administrative and security teams are nonetheless reviewing our emergency protocols to ensure the ongoing safety of our patients, visitors and (employees),” Taylor Hamilton, Physicians Regional spokeswoman, said in a statement.
Grief counselors were available for employees on Wednesday who needed it. Hamilton did not have a tally of how many employees sought it.
Physicians Regional and the NCH Healthcare System, which operates NCH Downtown Naples and North Naples hospitals, both use a “code silver” to alert employees that someone is armed with a weapon and is displaying or using it. NCH’s definition is that an active shooter is on the premises.
“It was just developed in the last year,” said John Griffith, director of security at NCH, adding that it was adopted from state recommendations due to events of hospital violence around the country. “We have been preparing and training for code silver. All of my security have gone through active shooter training courses.”
The Lee Memorial Health System, which operates four hospitals in Lee County, is now adopting code silver protocols since the FHA recommended it, Lee Memorial spokeswoman Mary Briggs said.
The most recent event of hospital violence was in May when a multi-organ transplant surgeon was shot and killed in the parking lot of Florida Hospital in Orlando by a patient in a murder-suicide. Last September, a gunman at John Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore wounded a surgeon before killing himself and his mother who was being treated at the hospital. Hospital shootings also occurred in 2010 in Tennessee, Connecticut, Louisiana and Nebraska.
“I think all hospitals have been on heightened alert,” Phil Dutcher, chief operating officer at NCH, said.
Dr. Robert Tober, former director of NCH’s department of emergency medicine, said violence in emergency rooms is something that’s on the minds of employees. NCH used to have off-duty but uniformed Naples Police officers in the emergency room at the downtown hospital, he said.
“They are a very public place with a lot of human stress,” Tober said, adding that talk of metal detectors has been around for some time. “At what time do you treat an emergency room the same as courthouses and airports? I don’t have the answer to that.”
NCH has a couple of hand-held detectors but Griffith said he can’t recall them ever being used in the six years he has been security director. NCH officials have talk in the past of installing metal detectors and again since Tuesday’s shooting at Physicians Regional.
“At this time, we have decided not to install them but it is something we are still thinking about,” Dutcher said.
Hamilton said Physicians Regional does not intend to add metal detectors. That sentiment is shared by Lee Memorial officials.
“We regularly review our security procedures and during that process the subject of metal detectors has been discussed, but we don’t have plans at this time to add them to our hospitals,” Briggs said. “Anytime there is an incident like this, you always look at it against your vulnerabilities. This was an incident that had nothing to do with the hospital.”
Connect with health-care reporter Liz Freeman at www.naplesnews.com/staff/liz_freeman