NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – Healthcare workers are speaking out on the lack of safety protocols at hospitals after a man reportedly opened fire inside Ascension Saint Thomas Midtown Hospital in Nashville over the weekend.
According to Metro police, 33-year-old Nicholas Zaayenga is behind bars, accused of firing shots inside the hospital stairway just before 2 a.m. on Saturday, Nov. 26. According to court records, Zaayenga was found along with a firearm, multiple magazines and bullet casings.
“The Nurse Erica”, an advocate and activist with more than 450,000 social media followers, told News 2 several employees from the hospital reached out hoping she can help.
“We are a sitting duck. You know how easy it is to gain entrance to these units, to these hospitals? It’s incredibly easy, you are almost never stopped,” she went on, calling the situation “terrifying.”
Terrified and afraid of retaliation, Erica said several employees told her what unfolded early Saturday morning.
“There were staff members that were hiding in OR suites. They were barricading doors, they didn’t know what was going on. There were some nursing students there as well overnight, just a terrifying, traumatic situation,” she said.
Erica said there wasn’t a lockdown and that employees weren’t even notified as shots were allegedly fired in the stairwell of the hospital where the gunman reportedly entered through an unlocked door, before finding himself locked inside.
Erica shared pictures on social media that showed bullet holes left behind.
“You can tell by the pictures that he was shooting at the door locks, which tells me he was actively trying to gain entrance into the units,” she said.
Security guards told officers they heard at least two gunshots go off in the stairwell, a fraction of what Erica said she was told by employees.
“This is not only a terrifying situation that is very possibly a near miss of what could have been catastrophic, but it’s also kind of an insult to injury because they’ve been asking for the measures that could have prevented this for years and the hospital has just not listened,” Erica explained.
Last year, News 2 reported that Metro police arrested a man for assaulting at least six Ascension Saint Thomas Midtown Hospital employees inside the parking garage.
“There is an epidemic of violence against healthcare workers in this country, and we need hospitals and we need legislatures to take us seriously,” said Erica.
There is pending workplace violence prevention legislation in the U.S. Senate that Erica said they need passed, in addition to the steps that hospitals should be taking.
“It’s really basic; it’s metal detectors, it’s locked doors, it’s armed security and it’s locked units when needed. That’s it, but unfortunately, that equates to money and hospitals don’t want to spend the money, because unfortunately, patient life and nurses and healthcare worker lives are not as valuable to them,” she said.
Erica recently helped launch a red and black ribbon campaign, calling it a silent protest asking all healthcare workers across the country to start wearing some form of red and black to draw awareness to the violence against healthcare workers, pointing to the recent killings of two employees at a hospital in Dallas.
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News 2 reached out to Ascension about the latest allegations on Monday, Nov. 28, but didn’t hear back.
They sent the following statement on Sunday, Nov. 27:
“The safety of our associates, providers, patients and visitors is always our highest priority. We are so proud of the prompt response by our associates and the Metro Nashville Police Department. We are most thankful for the safety of all involved. Our campus leaders have visited hospital departments to answer associates’ questions, concerns and provide support. We are fully cooperating with Metro Nashville Police Department in their investigation.“