Security concerns come to light following shooting outside Chicago hospital

Rosemary Sobol, Nereida Moreno and Elyssa Cherney
Chicago Tribune

CHICAGO – Security issues have been brought to light at Chicago’s Mount Sinai Hospital in the wake of a drive-by shooting Saturday that injured two women outside the hospital.

Residents and Chicago police at the scene of a shooting outside of the Mount Sinai Hospital emergency room on Saturday, May 5, 2018 in Chicago, Ill. Two women were shot outside the hospital. (Chris Sweda/Chicago Tribune/TNS)

Police Sunday were still trying to untangle what happened about 8 p.m. Saturday as the two 35-year-old women gathered with a group who went to the hospital to visit their relative, a 25-year-old man who had been shot earlier that day.

The shooting of the women prompted the hospital to be placed on lockdown for several hours.

Amid security concerns, the hospital in March decided to build a “fenced area” outside the emergency room to create a “safe zone,” said a spokesman, Dan Regan.

The “safe zone” allows the security team to ensure proper security screenings and “protect both patients and caregivers,” Regan said in a statement.

The 25-year-old man’s aunt, Amanda Morris, said hospital staff had not let the group inside the building so they gathered outside the private trauma center.

While Morris’ nephew was undergoing surgery, a car pulled up alongside the hospital and began shooting into the group, Morris said.

The shooters were in a dark-colored vehicle, police said. Three people in the car were wearing masks, said one woman, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of safety concerns.

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Morris recalled the shooters didn’t say anything before they opened fire.

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“Nothing but gunfire,” Morris said. “They just pulled up and started shooting.”

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One of the women shot outside the hospital is the sister of the man who was taken there after the earlier shooting, Morris said. The other woman is a cousin, she said.

“We are investigating whether the group was targeted due to their relation to the victim,” Chicago police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said. No arrests have been made.

Mount Sinai, on California Avenue at 15th Street in the city’s Douglas Park neighborhood, has for years had issues with disruptions outside the hospital when West Side shooting victims arrive, according to police reports.

Emotional and rowdy crowds made up of friends, family members and sometimes gang members pushing their way into the emergency room is a “real problem” for emergency room staff from intake clerks and security guards to doctors trying to perform procedures, according to a law enforcement source.

“It’s miserable for the hospital,” the source said, “But they (crowds) don’t seem to care.”

Hospital officials worked in consultation with the Chicago Police Department to create a “safe zone” around the entrance and security screening area, which can get congested during busy periods, Regan said. Guglielmi could not confirm that.

The new security area is like a vestibule, manned by the hospital guards and bookended by doors that can lock.

The main lobby and waiting area were open at the time of the incident, Regan said. Those waiting outside the emergency department were invited to come into the hospital and wait in the main lobby, he said. It was unclear whether the two 35-year-old women had been inside the hospital at any time.

A Chicago police officer talks with people at the scene of a shooting outside of the Mount Sinai Hospital emergency room on Saturday, May 5, 2018 in Chicago, Ill. (Chris Sweda/Chicago Tribune/TNS)

The hospital’s visitor guidelines for trauma patients allow only immediate family members to visit in patient rooms or the emergency department. Extended family members may stay in the main waiting area, and access the cafeteria during normal visiting hours until 9 p.m.

For now, the “fencing” will be kept in tact, Regan said.

In July, a 31-year-man was shot in the groin as he walked toward Mount Sinai Hospital during an especially violent weekend that saw 30 people shot, three fatally during an 18-hour period.

It wasn’t clear how close he was to the building, a hospital spokeswoman said at the time. The hospital “immediately” went on lockdown after that incident.

Saturday’s shooting outside Mount Sinai shows “that the tragic effects of gun violence can impact us anywhere in the city, even outside former ‘safe zones’ like hospitals,” Regan said.