Carol Anne Costa: Telling The Truth About The Navy Yard Shootings

Thursday, September 19, 2013


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Speaking truth to power: Dr. Janice Orlowski, CMO/COO of MedStar, speaks her mind in the aftermath of the Navy Yard shooting in Washington, DC.

Watching the coverage of the Navy Yard shootings brings Newtown, Aurora, Tuscon, Columbine, Virginia Tech and Luby’s right back to the forefront of my consciousness. In the wake of the massacre in Washington, DC once again conversation ensues. Like so many times before, even before the grief sets in, or the mourning of loved ones allowed, lines are drawn and positions verbalized. Once again the question rears, “Is it different this time?” My analytical self thinks not, as these shootings have become part of the news cycle and sadly may become as anonymous as the 8,241 American gun deaths, according to Slate, since Newtown. My emotional self however feels the pain and recognizes it maybe this time it will shift the dynamic. 

We have grown used to the pressers where Governors, Mayors and Chief Law Enforcement Officers debrief the public on the ongoing situation. We listen as the hospital officials, public information officers and surgeons turned spokespersons give us the HIPAA allowed patient progress updates. We all know now “what shelter in place” means. Our kids come home with tales of code red exercises and lockdown drills in their classrooms, gymnasiums, lunchrooms and libraries. Pundits, profilers and law enforcement experts all agree this will not be the last tragedy on a mass scale. With each incident, with every code red practiced in a classroom, with the bombardment of headlines rife with violence, we are becoming more and more desensitized. The numbers of victims used to shake us, then the boldness of the gunman would unnerve us, then the age of the victims shocked us and it seems to me with each event part of the news cycle the pause taken grows shorter. What follows are the same questions the same responses and we are indeed tired and frustrated. Regrettably, this is quickly becoming the new normal. But, did the voice of a dedicated doctor amidst the Navy Yard madness bring a new focus? I think so…

A Voice from the Trenches….

On Monday afternoon, I like many others began the routine of listening to law enforcement, criminal profilers and the chief medical officer/chief operating officer for MedStar Washington Hospital Center  where 3 of the wounded were taken. On my car radio I tuned in live to the press conference   given by Dr. Janis Orlowski, CMO/COO of MedStar and what I heard gave me great hope. In what is usually an antiseptic presentation of the medical status of the wounded in the end turned to an emotional plea, which to me was a clarion call. Her shaking voice uttered truths we are not used to hearing at these events. She said, "There's something evil in our society that we as Americans have to work to try and eradicate." Floored by this candor I was immediately stirred by her authenticity and impressed by her experience. The tone of her voice made me pull the car over, as I really wanted to hear what she was saying, “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. Let's get rid of this. This is not America." This message was clear, concise and filled with emotion and toil of a person steeped in the blood of victims. 

Growing Ranks of the Impacted

Dr. Orlowski is a singular voice which comes from the perspective of a human being whose job it is to heal, brings a new authority and holds much influence in the ongoing conversation about guns, violence, and mental health. Janis Orlowski’s opinion is now added the ranks of the impacted. Like any contentious issue in America the conversation is shaped by growing numbers of people willing to speak out on both sides. Perhaps the growing numbers of people prepared to take a stand for more sensible gun laws will empower palpable change for our nation. Maybe it will move Congress to action on background checks and better screening of mental health records for those who wish to be gun owners. It seems to have, as Toomey/Manchin is being mentioned again. That is a good thing. When the doctor gives an order to reexamine a problem, we all should listen.  

To me it is unimaginable how gut wrenching this is for the people ripped apart by this brutal violence. With every new story regarding guns and gun violence they must feel it reopening their grief and pain. The Newtown Families, Mark Kelley and Gabby Giffords, and every victim of gun violence have a new ally in Dr. Orlowski. Will it make a difference? Only time will tell. For the moment, let us take time to mourn the dead and remember all victims of gun violence.  

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A public relations and community outreach specialist, Carol has experience in both the public and private sectors. She is the Chairwoman of the Scituate Democratic Town Committee and has extensive community affairs and public relations experience. She previously served in the Rhode Island Judiciary for nearly 17 years. Carol also enjoyed a successful development stint at the Diocese of Providence as Associate Director for Catholic Education and is currently a public housing manager for the Johnston Housing Authority. Her work has been published in several local outlets including: GOLOCALPROV, Valley Breeze, The Rhode Island Catholic, and Currents Magazine.


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