Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

Jefferson University Hospital president describes aftermath of fatal shooting, promises security review

Rich Webster commended the heroics of the Jefferson staffers who raced on Monday morning to save Anrae James but would not talk about an apparent lag in alerting employees to the situation.

Employees of Jefferson Hospital exit the building early Monday morning on Oct. 4, 2021.
Employees of Jefferson Hospital exit the building early Monday morning on Oct. 4, 2021.Read moreALEJANDRO A. ALVAREZ / Staff Photographer

In the aftermath of a fatal shooting at its Center City campus, Jefferson University Hospital has increased the number of security guards on duty, offered counseling and time off to staff, and hosted Zoom town halls that have drawn more than 1,000 employees, its president said.

“We are reviewing every policy as well as every entrance to make sure it is an entrance we should keep open overnight,” said hospital president Rich Webster.

In his first interview since the shooting, Webster commended the heroics of the Jefferson staffers who raced on Monday morning to save Anrae James, a longtime certified nurse assistant at the hospital who police say was gunned down by another nurse assistant as he worked on the ninth floor.

Webster would not answer specific questions about security measures and the apparent gap between the time when police reported the shooting and when hospital employees got official notification. Instead, he spoke only about how Jefferson staff are dealing with the tragedy.

James was in surgery when Webster arrived on the scene to comfort his terrified employees.

The orthopedic recovery unit where James was shot was familiar to Webster: He began his career as a nursing extern on the same floor. “I’m so sorry,” he told shell-shocked, sobbing staffers.

“We basically hugged each other,” he recalled. “And I listened to them.”

They were as stunned by the shooting as they were by its alleged perpetrator -- another colleague, who, like James, had been a well-liked member of the tight-knit night-shift staff. They told Webster how it seemed the gunman, identified by police as Stacey Hayes, had fixated on James. “There were two [other] staff members in the immediate area. The suspect didn’t look at them. He did what he did, and he walked away,” Webster recounted.

In the aftermath of the shooting, his employees’ quick, brave actions were praiseworthy, Webster said, and he shared their confusion and sorrow over losing a friend and colleague so violently.

Questions also remain about the exact timing and sequence of events, including when other Jefferson employees were alerted to the presence of an active shooter in the Gibbon building and how those alerts were delivered.

Shortly after midnight Monday morning, James was working at a computer in the hallway of the 17-bed unit, where 11 patients recovering from orthopedic surgeries rested under the watchful eyes of nurses and technicians in blue surgical scrubs and masks.

A widely circulated surveillance video shows the gunman in the same blue scrubs, firing at James and chasing him down the hallway. Other workers sprinted for help while the gunman ran off the floor. Once it seemed safe to emerge from hiding, the ninth-floor team faced an unthinkable task: trying to save the life of a beloved colleague.

“They sprang into action, and tried everything they could,” Webster said. But within the hour, James was pronounced dead.

Elsewhere in the hospital complex, according to social media posts and interviews with staffers, Jefferson employees have said that they did not receive a text alert about the shooting until about half an hour after the first police reports of a gunman at Jefferson’s Center City campus. The shooting was first reported over police scanners around 12:12 a.m., and security reported to police that the gunman was believed to have left the building at about 12:22. Some staffers reported not getting a text alert from Jefferson until 12:44.

“We are deeply disturbed by the delay even though it would not have changed the outcome,” Jefferson spokesperson John Brand said in an email Wednesday. “We are undergoing a root cause analysis and will implement the indicated performance improvement findings.”

It’s unclear whether staffers were alerted in other ways, such as over loudspeakers. Staffers asked not to be identified by name because their employer told them not to speak publicly.

In a widely shared social media post, an employee on another floor reported hearing of the ninth-floor shooting from a colleague, not from official alerts. Terrified employees barricaded themselves into a break room, armed only with hot water from a coffeemaker for protection. Still, they listened for patient call signals, taking turns dashing out to check on those patients.

Webster said no patients witnessed the shooting; all have been moved to another part of the facility.

Now the hospital is reviewing its security procedures, including those surrounding employee entrances to the building. According to police, the gunman used a staff key card to enter the ninth floor.

Webster said that he arrived at Gibbon shortly after police were “confident the suspect had left.” (Hayes was arrested early Monday after a shootout with police in West Philadelphia that left him critically injured and two officers wounded.)

Webster said he met with nurses and operating-room technicians who had worked on James in his last moments: They were sobbing, he recalled. “They were just in tears. In tears,” he said. “They knew both [James and Hayes]. They’re grasping — trying to understand why.”

Patients were moved off the unit, and Webster and others met with them afterward. “[Patients] I spoke to were concerned about us,” he said. “They asked: ‘What happened? Is my nurse OK?’”

Nurses and other employees on staff that evening have been encouraged to take a week off, Webster said, and Jefferson is offering counseling for staffers affected. The hospital has also held several virtual town halls in which employees raised concerns around security at the hospital, both inside and outside, he said.

The hospital has added more security staff on its Center City campus this week, which has brought some comfort to staffers, he said.

The virtual town hall meetings have been so widely attended Webster had to upgrade his Zoom account from its 1,000-participant limit. Asked what concerns employees have raised, Webster said many people were worried about safety on Jefferson’s Center City campus, particularly over the last 18 months.

» READ MORE: Jefferson shooting is the latest example of workplace violence in health care

The COVID-19 pandemic has been an incredible strain on hospital staff, who have had the task of treating an influx of sick patients, many of whom have died of the virus, while also fearing for their own safety and that of their families and colleagues. At the same time, Jefferson’s Center City neighborhood feels eerily empty and vulnerable without the usual crush of commuters, students, and visitors.

“There are staff members who don’t feel comfortable coming to Center City,” Webster said. “They don’t feel comfortable parking a block from the hospital.”

When asked if employees seemed more concerned about safety outside the hospital, Webster said they are also concerned about internal safety.

Of all the people Webster has talked to in the last few days, the one who stands out was a ninth-floor scrub technician, a “strong, burly guy. He was just in tears. They know both the individuals and their experience with them is positive on both sides,” he said.

The scrub tech and others Webster talked to were shell-shocked and confused, trying to make sense of why a colleague would turn on another. “Questions probably no one can answer at this point.”

Staff writer Jason Laughlin contributed to this article.