Hospital chief who made plea to end gun violence to resign next month


“I would like you to put my trauma center out of business,” Janis Orlowski, chief medical officer at MedStar Washington Hospital Center, told an afternoon press conference Monday. (Jose Luis Magana/AP)
September 17, 2013

After Monday’s Navy Yard shooting, one of the most eloquent pleas to end gun violence came from the hospital official who had been overseeing care of the victims and giving updates on their conditions.

“I would like you to put my trauma center out of business,” Janis Orlowski, chief medical officer at MedStar Washington Hospital Center, told an afternoon news conference.

Earlier that day, the hospital’s president had sent an e-mail informing the board and medical staff that Orlowski was resigning. The move was unrelated to the shootings and had been under discussion since the summer.

For Orlowski, who is also chief operating officer at the hospital center, the timing of the announcement could not have been worse.

The hospital was getting ready to receive the first of three patients from the Navy Yard. Orlowski was in the trauma center with doctors and nurses. As the e-mails announcing her departure made the rounds, setting off beepers, many couldn’t believe the news. “They were looking at me with this look like ‘What’s this?’ ” she recalled.

Read eyewitness accounts from the Navy Yard shooting.

“I basically said to everybody, ‘Let’s just get to work.’ And I never thought about it again during the day. I’ve got to be the chief medical officer. I have a trauma center to run.”

Orlowski, 57, who has been at the hospital for nearly 10 years and is known for speaking candidly, gave reports throughout the day on the patients’ conditions. At the end of an afternoon news conference Monday, she was asked, as someone who deals with trauma on a daily basis, what stood out about the Navy Yard shootings. Her remarks quickly made her something of a hero on television and the Internet.

“You know what, we see a lot of trauma,” she said at the briefing. Sometimes it’s accidents, she said. But “then you see what I call senseless trauma. And there is — there’s something evil in our society that we as Americans have to work to try and eradicate,” she said.

She added: “I would like you to put my trauma center out of business. I really would. I would like to not be an expert on gunshots and not to be an expert on this. . . . We are — we do it well. Very experienced surgeons. But, quite frankly, I would rather they were doing their surgery on other things.”

With dozens of cameras trained on her, she said she could see the cameramen nodding in agreement as she spoke.

Later that evening, Orlowski was interviewed on CNN and MSNBC. The response has been overwhelming. She has received hundreds of supportive messages from strangers on Twitter and Facebook. A video of her on the Atlantic Wire has 2,300 Facebook likes.

A Fort Washington florist who never met her sent Orlowski a bouquet of purple orchids.

“It was just unbelievable,” Orlowski said.

“Everybody was touched by the obvious emotion with which she answered that question,” said Donna Arbogast, the hospital’s vice president for public affairs.

Orlowski handed in her resignation letter on Friday to hospital President John Sullivan. The board and staff members were notified Monday at 10 a.m. Orlowski’s last day will be Oct. 11. She is not at liberty to say what her new job is, except that she will be developing public health-care policy at a large professional association. Her resignation was first reported by the Washington Business Journal.

“I love the hospital, and this was a very difficult decision, a very emotional decision for me,” she said. In her dual roles overseeing the medical staff and the day-to-day operation of the city’s largest private hospital, she typically works more than 100 hours a week. A nephrologist by training, she still sees patients every Monday.

“But this was an opportunity to do policy, and they’re looking for someone with boots-on-the-ground experience,” she said. “Quite frankly, it’s a wonderful opportunity, and I couldn’t say no.”

Lena H. Sun is a national reporter for The Washington Post, focusing on health.
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