Lockdown: ER plays it safe

Maybe it was the nearly full moon. After two separate shootings June 29, the UVA Medical Center Emergency Room was locked down twice in one day– something that apparently happens only once in a blue moon.

Lockdowns sound so big city. How frequently do they happen in this bucolic burg?

"It's not something we track," says spokesperson Abena Foreman-Trice, who estimates the emergency room is locked down seven or eight times a year. Twice in one day "sounds unusual," she says.

The first came after Herbert Thomas Brown allegedly chased his wife, Wendy Brown, out of B&B Cleaners in Crozet and shot her. He left the scene, and his absence prompted an ER lockdown. (Police caught up with Brown in Batesville about an hour after the shooting.)

"There's been a shooting, and they don't have the person in custody," explains UVA Police Captain Michael Coleman. "It's better to err on the side of caution."

The second lockdown came that evening after two men mixed it up at the Arrington Mini-Mart, according to an account in the Daily Progress. Robert Charles Hall and James Howard Cloniger apparently had been arguing about their military records for the past 10 years.

Witnesses say Cloniger whacked Hall in the stomach with a bamboo walking stick, Hall bashed Cloniger in the head with a carpenter's level, and Cloniger pulled out a .45-caliber pistol he'd stashed in the bushes and shot Hall in the head.

Neither men's injuries were life threatening. Hall reportedly drove home and then a helicopter flew him to the ER, and an ambulance took Cloniger. Again, the UVA Medical Center ER locked down.

Foreman-Trice says both lockdowns lasted until the capture of the suspects, when police said it was safe to reopen the ER.

Neither Coleman nor Foreman-Trice could elaborate on why the ER was shut down a second time– or if it closes to visitors every time a gunshot-wound victim comes in. "The ER manager makes the decision," says Foreman-Trice. Calls to emergency medicine chief Marcus Martin were referred to Coleman and Foreman-Trice.

According to Foreman-Trice, no patients are turned away during a lockdown.

However, an emergency room staff member says that ambulances have been diverted to Martha Jefferson at such times.

For some ER staff and visitors, the approximately hour-long June 29 lockdowns were an inconvenience. One nurse, who asked that her name not be used, says the distraught wife of a cardiac patient was denied permission to see her husband during the lockdown.

"I imagine they'd continue to wait," says Foreman-Trice of family members and friends in the waiting room. Whether they can come into treatment areas to see patients is determined by the ER manager.

Other incidents that would prompt a lockdown: a multi-casualty incident such as a plane crash or train wreck, a terrorist attack, or major civil disobedience nearby, or, as in the June 29 double lockdown, fear of "imminent danger" to the patients, visitors, or staff.

Fans of the 10-year-old NBC series ER know the busy Chicago hospital rarely locks down– even when a helicopter crashes outside its doors or staff members are stabbed.

"TV shows are not reality," says Coleman. "We're in a different age from 10 years ago."

Now, if a husband shoots his wife at the dry cleaners, or two grown men go at each other in a convenience store parking lot, UVA Medical Center is taking no chances.

But "two shootings in one day– that does make it unusual," observes Coleman.

Two recent shootings closed the UVA emergency room twice in one day.