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Every hospital wants to know how two nurses were held at gunpoint

Authorities said Tywon Salters, 21, was being treated at Delnor Hospital in Geneva when he took members of the nursing staff hostage. | Kane County Sheriff's office

When the Kane County sheriff’s police announced two weeks ago that a dangerous prisoner had held two hospital nurses hostage at gunpoint, among the many unanswered questions was how the prisoner got a gun.

The prisoner wrestled the gun from a guard, that much was clear. But how?

EDITORIAL

On Thursday, an attorney for the nurses described a harrowing series of bumbles by the sheriff’s police that, if true, call into question the sheriff office’s competence. An independent investigation of the office’s performance is begged for, separate from the nurses’ lawsuit.

At stake is the well-being of the two nurses, who their lawyer says are “left traumatized for life.” You can bet that’s true.

Also at stake is the continued confidence of employees, patients and visitors that hospitals are safe and well secured. Hospitals must deal with everybody, including gangbangers rolled into emergency rooms with gunshot wounds and jailed felons brought in for scheduled medical care. Law enforcement agents, assigned to protect the rest of us from such potentially dangerous people, cannot let down their guard.

Which may be what happened here.

On May 8, a 22-year-old Kane County inmate, Tywon M. Salters, was admitted to Delnor Hospital in Geneva after eating part of a sandal and drinking hydrogen peroxide. He was combative with nurses and doctors, according to the nurses’ attorney, Sean Murray, and had to be restrained. He was put on a suicide watch, and a rotation of several county corrections guards officers were assigned to watch him.

This was nothing new. Twice before, Murray says, Salters had hurt himself to get out of jail.

What exactly happened next will no doubt be disputed, but the nurses contend, in a federal lawsuit filed Thursday, that the guards were anything but on the alert. One guard, they say, was found sleeping on a couch. Others watched TV and used cellphones and laptop computers.

More troubling, Murray says, Salters was unshackled whenever he wanted to use the restroom. And it was at one of these times on May 13, when Salters was not cuffed, that he grabbed a 9mm gun from a guard.

Salters took a nurse hostage, holding a gun to her head. Then he released the nurse and took a second nurse hostage. He held her for 3 1/2 hours, beating her with the gun, telling her she was going to die and raping her.

In all, five hours went by before a SWAT team shot Salters to death.

A spokesman for the Kane County sheriff’s office later said there would be a full investigation, explaining, “We really don’t know what happened in that room.”

True enough.

Except this: Every hospital administrator in town wants to know this cannot happen again.