Shortly before midnight Tuesday, police used check-in information to arrest Keber Martinez, the suspect who fired four shots in the waiting room of Jacobi Medical Center and injured a 35-year-old man on Tuesday. But Tuesday’s incident, staff at Jacobi Medical Center told the Bronx Times, is an escalation of a string of violent workplace incidents that is endangering the safety of Bronx medical workers.
“I’m not surprised that we had an active shooter (on Tuesday), it was just a matter of time,” said Amrit Saini, a resident at Jacobi. “I’m surprised that we don’t have more measures to protect our residents and other staff.”
Police said the victim was waiting to see a doctor, when Martinez showed up to visit a patient. The two previously knew each other, according to investigators, and a staredown led to Martinez shooting the victim in the left forearm at roughly 12:30 p.m. on Tuesday, before evading police until later that night.
Martinez is being charged with attempted murder, reckless endangerment, and criminal possession of weapons, authorities said. Martinez had six prior arrests for assault, drugs, grand larceny and criminal possession of a weapon, with the most recent charge in May 2020.
But the scars from Tuesday, and from subsequent months prior to the shooting are still fresh for Jacobi medical staff, who have dealt with physical and verbal assaults without much intervention from the city or NYC Health + Hospitals, which operates the public hospitals and clinics.
Saini, who said he has been physically attacked by a patient times six times over the last 18 months, said that Jacobi security had to confiscate four firearms from patients in various areas of the hospital in recent months, which has prompted a new procedure where hospital police will wand any “agitated” patients arriving at the emergency department.
But law enforcement said in a Tuesday afternoon press conference following the incident that no weapon checks were conducted in the hospital waiting room before Martinez opened fire.
“However, the majority of patients will not be wanded upon entrance to the ED,” Saini said. “The emergency department administration is doing everything they can to help with safety concerns but we also need help from NYC Health + Hospital and the city to increase funding to help protect the healthcare staff when we are treating our patients in the Bronx.”
In a statement, NYC Health + Hospitals said that no employees at Jacobi Medical were injured in the gunfire, and called the incident “cowardly.”
“This was a cowardly act in a space where New Yorkers come for healing and care,” the statement reads. “Our health care heroes swiftly took care of the shooting victim and took actions to protect the other patients in the waiting room. Our immediate focus is on caring for the patient and ensuring the safety of our staff.”
Komal Bajaj, chief quality officer at Jacobi Medical Center said that “gun violence is a public health emergency.”
A second-year resident, who requested anonymity fearing retaliation from her employer, said that Jacobi had seen a pattern of violence and that she had been a victim of an assault by an unruly patient over the summer, but that NYC Health + Hospitals failed to beef up its security following patterns of attacks on residents.
The exposure to violence at Jacobi isn’t just limited to hospital staff, as patients like Angelica Howard feel that patient safety is also being compromised.
“This is a hospital, how does that happen? How do they not check for weapons at a place where people are receiving care or possibly too groggy to activate our fight or flight,” said Howard, who receives dialysis treatments at Jacobi.
Violence hasn’t just been limited to Jacobi Medical Center though, as other Bronx hospital have been scenes for tragic events.
Four and a half years ago, a former doctor opened fire inside a Bronx hospital. Authorities said Dr. Henry Bello fatally shot one person and wounded six others at Bronx-Lebanon Hospital on June 30, 2017, before killing himself.
Jenny Vargas, a former night-shift nurse at Jacobi who quit after a violent incident in February believes a violent culture — “sacrificing your mental and physically for patients” she alleges — has been allowed to fester by hospital administration.
“I think there’s a lot of doctors, nurses and medical staff in the Bronx and honestly, across the nation, who are tired of being punched in the face, both literally and figuratively,” the 26-year-old told the Bronx Times. “I don’t think it’s all NYC Health + Hospitals’ fault, but there is a culture becomes engrained in you that as a medical personnel, I should accept being assaulted by my patients, in order to give the best service.”
Curbing the rising trend in high-profile violence is becoming an everyday issue for Mayor Eric Adams and his 26-day old administration. On Tuesday, Adams, a Democrat, visited the victim who is recovering from surgery following the shooting, and spent the day defending his plan to combat gun violence. Adams’ plan includes an immediate deployment of law enforcement in the streets and subways, and the reinstatement of the NYPD’s controversial anti-crime street unit, where officers dress as plain-clothed civilians to get guns off the street, with an emphasis on preventative public safety.
The unit will be sent to 30 precincts across the city, which account for 80% of gun crimes.
“We’re going to make sure this is not the Anti-Crime Unit of the old days. These officers are going to wear identifiable parts of police attire,” the mayor said. “We’ll never use, under my administration, any abusive target tactics that goes after people based on their ethnicity and where they live.”
Adams’ other proposals include using facial recognition to identify people carrying guns, and selectively appointing judges who are committed to cracking down on violent offenders. Democratic Gov. Kathy Hochul is also expected to speak Wednesday at the first meeting of the Interstate Task Force on Illegal Guns.
Reach Robbie Sequeira at [email protected] or (718) 260-4599. For more coverage, follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @bronxtimes.