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Odessa hospital endures agony of being a mass shooting’s trauma center

A gunman firing indiscriminately from his car on Saturday in Odessa, Texas, killed seven people and wounded 22 more. Many of the victims were sent to Odessa's Medical Center Hospital. William Brangham talks to Russell Tippin, the Medical Center Health System’s CEO, about the harrowing experience of becoming a trauma center for a mass shooting and how the community and first responders are coping.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    When a gunman fired indiscriminately from his vehicle on the streets and highways of Odessa, Texas, on Saturday, he killed seven people and wounded 22 others.

    As William Brangham reports, a local hospital quickly became the trauma center to treat many of the victims.

  • William Brangham:

    The Medical Center Hospital in Odessa treated 13 of the shooting victims, including one who later died, and the young toddler who was hit by shrapnel and was later transferred to a hospital in Lubbock.

    Russell Tippin is the CEO of the Medical Center Health System in Odessa, and he joins me via Skype.

    Mr. Tippin, thank you very much for being here.

    Could you just take us back to Saturday and help us understand how that day unfolded for you?

  • Russell Tippin:

    Yes.

    Like probably most everybody else, I was out of town with my family returning home from the Labor Day weekend. And I just started getting all kinds of messages and calls that there was an incident taking place here in Odessa, and that it was a bad situation.

    And we just kind of started talking about what our game plan was, started talking about our emergency management plans, and just what we needed to do to, first of all, secure the hospital and protect our employees and get ready for some patients and their families.

  • William Brangham:

    I mean, as the chief executive of a small hospital, not to mention being a resident of Odessa, hearing that there is a mass shooting under way in your town has to be the worst nightmare scenario.

  • Russell Tippin:

    Well, you know, my first thought was — once I took my first phone call, I laid the phone down, and my family and I and in our car just said a quick prayer for the victims and their families, and just the shooting would stop, and that we would be in the right place at the right time, and that the good lord would use us to take care of these patients coming in.

    I mean, this is something nobody wants to hear. You train for this stuff. You prepare. But you're right. When the actual words come in that there is something of this magnitude going on, there's really no — you just kind of go numb. There's really no feeling to it.

    You just know that you have got training, and you rely on that training, and you get busy taking care of patients.

  • William Brangham:

    On Saturday night at your press conference, you were urging prayers and harmony for the community.

    What was it you were trying to convey the people at that time?

  • Russell Tippin:

    Well, I mean, when you get in times like this, you got the lean on your faith. You got to lean on each other.

    And my call that night was the same as it is right now, is, healing starts with loving each other and with praying for each other and just being there when people need help. And that's what I was trying to get across, was, we have to take care of each other, and God has a plan for us all, and we can reach out to him any time, and that it was just time for us to call on the name of the lord and just to reach out and be ready to take care of our community.

  • William Brangham:

    Obviously, this has taken a terrible toll on the victims, those who survived and those who lost their lives.

    But we know, from past shootings, that this also takes a terrible toll on the first responders and the people who care for the wounded. You have been talking to your staff. How are they doing? How are they handling all this?

  • Russell Tippin:

    Well, first of all, these people performed amazingly.

    When all this was going on, nobody was above anybody else. Everybody was pitching in, doing their role, playing their part, doing what was necessary, even going above and beyond that.

    But, you know, it's kind of like post-traumatic stress disorder. When it all ends, and people start calming down, and they start going home and start realizing — I mean, there was a young lady that was killed in this that's the same age as my daughter, and the same age as a lot of our employees' family.

    And I think that that was very tough for some of our staff to just deal with that. And we have had counselors on site. We have had animals, you know, post-traumatic stress animals on site for our staff just to be available, so, should they have these, you know, these post — just these symptoms that they're feeling some anxiety, that we have somebody there to help them through this.

    We have also made that available to the victims and their families as well.

  • William Brangham:

    I know that several of the victims are still receiving care inside your hospital.

    Can you just give us a sense of how they're doing now?

  • Russell Tippin:

    We do have some folks still in our facility. Most of them are doing well. We have a few labeled as critical. We have some in serious condition.

    We did have some go home today. And we're expecting people to just continue to recover and do well. We have one critical, one serious, and seven in fair condition right now.

  • William Brangham:

    All right, Russell Tippin, CEO of the Medical Center Health System in Odessa, thank you very, very much.

  • Russell Tippin:

    Thank you, guys. God bless you. Take care.

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