SAN BERNARDINO — A 34-year-old physician was stabbed in the abdomen Tuesday as she reported to work at the San Bernardino County Medical Center, a sprawling complex where the public has virtually unrestrained access to medical offices and patient wards.
The doctor, a second-year resident in the hospital's family practice program, was recovering from a wound that did not require surgery, and asked that she not be identified, a hospital spokesman said.
San Bernardino Police Department spokesman Jim Hamlin said the doctor apparently was stabbed by one of two unidentified young men who bumped against her in a stairwell, then fled the scene during the hospital's busy morning shift change.
Moments passed before the doctor realized--because of blood on her blouse--that she had been stabbed, and she managed to walk to the emergency room for treatment, officials said.
The attack was apparently unprovoked. Detectives speculate that the men may have been irritated by someone or something at the hospital "and the doctor was the first visible sign of authority they happened across as they were leaving," Hamlin said.
The incident, officials say, illustrates the difficulty of providing hospital security, especially in public facilities where the sheer number of people coming and going can overwhelm whatever safety measures have been taken.
It was the latest incident of violence at a Southern California hospital. Earlier this month, an armed woman entered Corona Regional Medical Center and shot and wounded a nurse who was tending to newborn infants.
In June, a teen-ager was shot outside the emergency waiting room of Daniel Freeman Memorial Hospital in Inglewood in what authorities described as a gang-related attack. Last February, in one of the worst cases of hospital violence, a disgruntled patient opened fire at Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center, seriously wounding three doctors and holding two staff members hostage for nearly five hours.
The San Bernardino County Medical Center has a history of problems. On Christmas Eve, a shooting victim taken to the hospital was shot and killed by an assailant who walked unchecked into the victim's room.
Dr. Douglas Anders, who spent much of the day Tuesday at the wounded physician's bedside, said she was "beside herself," and decided to leave the hospital for a residency program elsewhere.
"She was always frightened about working here, and this was the final straw," Anders said. "She's decided to leave the program. She's terrified."
He described the woman as one of the most popular of the hospital's 54 family practice residents and as an accomplished skier who "almost made the U.S. Olympic skiing team."
There were no witnesses to the stabbing, which sparked new calls among the hospital's staff for increased security.
"We feel like we're sitting ducks, working here," Anders said. "We walk around in fear. I'm supposed to be taking care of people and instead I'm worried about my own personal safety."
Hospital Medical Director Dr. Francis L. Comunale acknowledged the problem.
"It's been a known concern throughout the years about the kind of clientele we serve--sheriff's arrests, gang incidents and the people who visit them are those kinds of people, too," Comunale said.
Hospital Director Charles R. Jervis said that after last December's shooting, surveillance cameras were installed, security staffing was increased from four to five people, and all doors except for the emergency room were ordered locked from 9 p.m. to 6 a.m.
But he acknowledged that those steps may not be sufficient at the 40-acre, 15-building medical complex. The 236-bed hospital treats about 120,000 patients a year.
"Aside from turning ourselves into a prison, I don't know how to restrict employee and public travel," Jervis said.
He said that with even tighter security, it would be all but impossible to make public stairwells safe from attacks such as Tuesday's.
"The randomness of what happened frightens everybody," he said.