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Shots spark hospital review

February 23, 2001

Shots spark hospital review



By MARLO BARNHART / Staff Writer


Washington County Hospital officials have begun reviewing safety procedures after four shots were fired in a hospital elevator Thursday night.

A patient, Freddie Lee Harris, 58, of 1609 Bainbridge Ave., Pensacola, Fla., was charged Friday with two counts of attempted first-degree murder charges and two counts each of first- and second-degree assault and reckless endangerment in connection with the incident. One count each of use of a firearm in a felony and discharging a firearm in the city limits were also filed.

Harris was readmitted to the hospital following the 9:20 p.m. incident. Hagerstown City Police provided security at his door.

Washington County District Court Commissioner Heather Hose made a hospital visit to Harris' room.

"He was still sedated when I visited him at the hospital Friday morning," she said.

Based on the seriousness of the charges, Hose said bond will be denied.

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Meanwhile, hospital officials meeting in a 9 a.m. debriefing Friday agreed that "people responded as well as expected under the circumstances."

Hospital officials are assessing their handling of the incident and evaluating possible changes in safety procedures.

Deborah Addo, vice president of patient care services, said the hospital went back to business as usual on Friday as far as security is concerned.

"We are considering this incident to be an anomaly," Addo said. "As far as any future changes in security, we want our response to be thoughtful, not knee-jerk."

A consultant should review the hospital's security system, Addo said. Round-the-clock security is provided by a 14-member staff. The security staff is not armed.

"Other health care facilities will be looked at to see what they do," Addo said.

The hospital's patient bill of rights will be reviewed by legal representatives to see how much leeway the hospital has in searching patients and their belongings.

Harris, who was reportedly trying to leave the hospital against medical advice, was being escorted back to an upper floor by a nurse and a security guard when the shots were fired in the small elevator around 9:20 p.m., police said.

Security guard Tom Thompson was pushing the elevator button when he saw a handgun, said Ray Grahe, vice president for finance at the hospital. The guard told the nurse to drop to the floor and then tried to get control of the gun.

During the struggle, the Colt .45-caliber revolver went off four times in the elevator, police said.

"We responded appropriately," Grahe said.

The man was not a psychiatric patient, Addo said. Psychiatric patients are checked for possible weapons, but medical patients aren't routinely screened.

Addo said the patient was not violent prior to the incident but became "extremely agitated when told he couldn't leave." She said the nurse was following procedure by trying to keep the patient from leaving.

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