Bronx Lebanon Hospital Housekeeper Dowaine Clarke thought he was going to die on June 30. “We were right next to a guy who had been shot and we had no idea where the shooter was,” says Clarke. “I had just come in to start my shift when a guy came in saying he’d been shot. I thought he was joking.”
That was the day Henry Bello, a disgruntled doctor armed with a semi-automatic weapon opened fire in a unit on the hospital’s 16th floor, killing Dr. Tracy Tam and seriously wounding six other staffers before turning the gun on himself.
Patient Transporter Bernard Blondell and his wife Kenya, a medical assistant, were working on Bronx Lebanon’s 10th floor cardiac unit when alarms went off, smoke began billowing from the facility and voices came screaming over loudspeakers: code silver—an active shooter on the premises.
“No one comes to work and says, ‘There is going to be an active shooter in our building today,’ or thinks they are going to get shot,” says Blondell. “People are still trying to grasp what happened.”
Dr. Hassan Tariq, a surgeon, sustained a potentially career-ending hand wound, but managed to make his way from the 16th floor to near where the Blondells were working.
Together with Practice Administrator for Cardiology Diana Cruz, they carried Dr. Tariq down some ten flights of stairs to the institution’s first floor emergency room. There was no time for debate.
“Somebody made a judgment call. We had to get him downstairs,” says Bernard Blondell.
“Everyone started screaming, but then people were running to get IV’s and medical supplies,” he adds. Recalling the afternoon, Kenya Blondell’s voice quivers.
“We didn’t think about it. We just sprang into action. We didn’t know where the shooter was or what was happening,” she says. “We had each other, but anything could have happened. We could have been killed, and our baby daughter would have been left without both her parents.”
After the shooting, workers spoke about the sense responsibility for each other and the South Bronx residents they serve. Bronxites depend on Bronx Lebanon for primary healthcare, specialized medicine, emergency care and numerous other wellness services. As reported in The New York Times, even the hospital’s café is a center of neighborhood social life. Treating the wounded and calming hospital patients and visitors remained a priority in the minds Bronx Lebanon workers.
Dowaine Clarke and fellow housekeeper Akeem Gray (whose father Maurice is a delegate leader at NYU Langone Medical Center) described the gravity of their encounter with a badly wounded shooting victim bleeding from his chest.
“We put a towel on his chest and Akeem, the supervisor and I just hurried to get him down to the Emergency Room,” says Clarke. The reality of the events sneaks up on him, says Gray.
“When I’m getting ready for work, I find myself not wanting to leave my son. He’s only one year old,” says Gray. “That could have been me getting shot. Some people are really traumatized, and everybody is quieter. I’m just trying to come to work and focus on my job. I have bills to pay.”
On July 6, Bronx Lebanon workers community members, elected officials and a host of others gathered in a small park in hospital’s shadow for a vigil sponsored by 1199SEIU, the New York State Nurses Association (NYSNA) and SEIU’s Committee of Interns and Residents (CIR). The event was a united stand against gun violence and a remembrance of those killed and injured in the attack. The event also recalled NYPD Officer Miosotis Familia, a former healthcare worker, who was shot not far from the hospital July 4 as she sat an NYPD emergency vehicle. Officer Familia died at St. Barnabas Hospital.
The vigil’s program included deeply emotional remarks from New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark- Viverito, New York City Central Labor Council Director Vinny Alvarez, NYSNA Executive Director Jill Furillo, CIR Director Eric Scherzer and 1199SEIU Executive Vice President Estela Vazquez.
Vazquez shared appreciation for the bravery of Bronx Lebanon’s workers and the commitment of 1199SEIU to fighting for safety for all New Yorkers.
Jose Saez, a Bronx Leb patient care technician, was off the day of the shooting, but came in anyway, to support his co-workers, patients and the community that depends on his hospital.
“I used to work in EMS, so all of this happening like this hit me hard,” says Saez. “One of our nurses is best friends with Officer Familia’s family. She was just too busy at work busting her butt to support her family. It’s terrible.”
“But we want people not to be afraid and to come back to this hospital,” he adds. “This community should say ‘we aren’t going to let a monster push us away from our home’.”