Three weeks after the tragic death of Duke Health Center employee Charlene King, administrators are evaluating security measures at off-site clinics.
King, a 49 year-old phlebotomist for the North Duke Street Clinic, was fatally wounded in the building May 4 after a gunman walked into the facility and fired several shots. About 40 minutes later, Durham police officers confronted male suspect Burnette Taylor on the corner of Broad and Carver streets. Taylor passed away at Duke Hospital from resulting injuries later that day.
“When this happened, we got calls from clinics and non-clinics saying things like, ‘I may not feel safe in this off-site environment,’” said Paul Newman, executive director for the Private Diagnostic Clinic. “As you expect in a tragic situation, there are many discussions about security moving forward. The fact is that the safety of patients and staff is paramount. They need to feel safe and secure.”
An estimated 33 patients were in the immediate area of the incident, with an additional 50 staff members in the clinic, Newman said.
Kammie Michael, public information officer for the Durham Police department, said this is not believed to be a random act, confirming in an e-mail that investigations revealed that King and Taylor were in a relationship.
Taylor, a 51 year-old Durham citizen, had an extensive criminal history including convictions of rape and female assaults, Michael noted. The investigation of the shooting is still underway and Durham police are interviewing witnesses, said Bill Gable, administrative director in the Private Diagnostic Clinic.
Administrators for the off-site clinics have assembled a multidisciplinary team tasked with investigating security concerns in and around off-site clinics, among other locations. Gable added that the team includes representatives from Duke safety officials, emergency preparedness teams, individuals from emergency response teams, critical incidence response teams, social workers and clinical management.
“With Duke Police and Durham Police going to see each and every site, I’m sure things like cameras, panic buttons, intercoms, alarms, installing walls between certain areas and even cutting down trees to improve visibility will come up,” Newman said.
Gable said there are few off-site facilities armed with security personnel. Security services are provided by DPD and Duke security officials, Gable added.
“This was not a random situation, but you still have to ask, ‘What can we do to be prepared in all circumstances?’” Gable said. “Our sense is, quite frankly, whether or not our staff members or someone who works at one of our practices is scared or feels anxiety, we’re not waiting for that. Some people are impacted more significantly than others. We are taking this as a call to action.”
The team had its first meeting the week following the shooting, which served mostly as a discussion of the shooting, Gable said. The conversations provided preliminary findings that will be used to create a “game plan” for members to assess which elements of the design or capacity of the sites can help as future deterrents. He said a lot of different perspectives will be brought to the table including the resources, training, responsiveness and circumstances that led up to the incident.
Gable also emphasized the importance of communication between Duke and the Durham community, adding that regular communication reduces response time.
“It is not really about this particular event, we have a practice on Erwin and Trent,” Gable said. “When we talk about our off-site locations, even though the North Duke clinic is eight to 10 miles away [from Duke], we can’t have one way of doing things if it is across the street and if it is across town. We need to know that it triggers uniform responses. The only place where there is a distinction is where services are within the hospital.”
He added that everything is fair game in terms of discussion in what they can do to ensure confidence and safety.
“So far it has worked remarkably well, there is always something healthy about scrutinizing the process and making it better,” Gable said. “We are very thankful for how everyone came together, but that doesn’t dilute our commitment to kicking the tires of the process.”
Gable noted that they will look at how to manage and respond to visitors within a practice or site beyond staff, physicians, patients and families.
“The lives of everyone involved in this tragic event has changed forever,” Newman said. “The entire Duke community is really proud and thankful for the heroism and countless selfless acts by the staff and physicians at that site. What took place was absolutely amazing, the care for the patients and the individual, the immediate response by doctors to try and save Ms. King’s life.”
Newman noted that following the incident, the clinic followed the standard protocol for these events, initiating their “Code Grey” procedures, which are the Joint Commission accreditation standard, resulting in the entire clinic being held under lock down.
The lock down procedures were in place until about 5:15 p.m., when patients were allowed to leave the facility, Newman said.
The following day the clinic was closed, prompting the need for many phone calls in order to notify the hundreds of the patients who had appointments the next day.
The clinic’s closing allowed administration to contact patients and employees that were present the day of the incident, letting them know that counselors, support services and psychologists were available. At least one patient requested a counselor meeting, Newman said.
Administrators praised the leadership and bravery of the staff at the clinic.
“If you saw the response three to four days afterward, the support and togetherness that has taken place for the individuals that work there is astounding,” Newman said. “They are reaching out to patients that have concerns about safety and genuinely care. The staff has really stepped beyond their responsibility to provide that extra level to patients and colleagues and we could never be prouder.”
Although the tragic incident has prompted much closer evaluation of safety procedures, it has also pulled the Duke and Durham communities closer together.
“No one wants to go though this as a test to see how individuals respond,” Newman said. You never think you’ll experience something like this, but through this you see what people are made of and the way Duke pulls together to help in a circumstance like this is really amazing, really amazing.”
Get The Chronicle straight to your inbox
Signup for our weekly newsletter. Cancel at any time.