Shooting prompts health workers to rally against violence

Posted: September 18, 2007

Still stunned by last week's shooting of one of their own on a street in Fairmount, home health care workers today started gathering a regional coalition to work for an end to an epidemic of gun violence.

About 100 people, organized by workers of Keystone Hospice and Keystone Home Health, rallied for about an hour at the Convention Center before walking three blocks to Dilworth Plaza west of City Hall.

Chanting "No more violence," each marcher carried a tombstone-shaped placard bearing the name of one of the 298 people slain this year in Philadelphia through 11:59 p.m. Sunday.

After reading the victims' names, the marchers placed the placards on the ground and gathered for prayer.

Gail Inderwies, a registered nurse and executive director of Keystone Hospice, the agency for which shooting victim Esther Schultz worked as a therapist and counselor, said: "We talk about doing stuff, we start initiatives, but we take it no further. You know, when Esther got shot the other day it was, 'Enough is enough already,' and our agency said, 'You know we have to do something.' "

That something, Inderwies said, is the Coalition for Safer Streets, a union of public health organizations, residents, politicians and community groups that will work to encourage respect for life and push for legislation to counter some factors in violent crime, including the easy availability of firearms.

Inderwies announced that Keystone Hospice had contributed an initial grant of $2,500 to help the coalition get started and hoped that others would match it.

Before the group even left the Convention Center, Keystone's seed money was increased with a $5,000 contribution from Health Partners, a Philadelphia health plan.

"It's the least we can do," said William S. George, president of Health Partners, which serves the region's medical assistance population. "We need more business people to step up to the plate. We need more business people to get involved."

Also supporting the coalition were representatives of the Pennsylvania Homecare Association and the National Association for Home Care and Hospice in Washington.

The rally, spurred by an assault in one of Center City's safer neighborhoods, drew people from the region who said gun violence is more than just an urban problem.

Among those taking part were Peter Amuso, a Springfield Township school board member and the Democratic candidate for Montgomery County district attorney; state Rep. W. Curtis Thomas, a North Philadelphia Democrat; and Phil Goldsmith, Philadelphia's former managing director and the president of CeaseFire PA, a group working to reduce gun violence.

Amuso reminded the group that, just last December, a student brought a gun into Springfield High School and killed himself.

"The city and the suburbs are not separated, they are connected," Amuso said. "Nowhere is that more true than in the issue of gun violence."

Inderwies said home health workers are especially vulnerable to violence because their clients often live in the poorest - and most violence prone - neighborhoods.

In June, a visiting nurse was assaulted and robbed in North Philadelphia in the middle of a weekday afternoon while going to visit a patient. The assailant demanded her wallet, police said at the time, and when she said she didn't have one, punched her in the face until she lost consciousness before stealing her medical bag.

That is why many of those present today were doubly shocked by Thursday's shooting. Of 298 slayings this year in Philadelphia, just three were in Center City or adjacent neighborhoods.

According to accounts by police and Inderwies, Schultz, 25, was returning home after a bereavement counseling session. She had parked her car in the 800 block of North 24th Street and was talking to her mother on a cell phone when she was grabbed from behind by an armed robber who demanded her purse.

When she resisted, she was pistol-whipped and knocked to the ground. At that point, the assailant was trying to get into a waiting vehicle when the driver said, "Shoot the bitch."

Schultz was shot in the shoulder. She was taken to Hahnemann University Hospital, and was released Friday.

A witness jotted down the license plate number as the robbers fled and police said today that two people had been arrested.

Akeim Bullock, 35, is identified as the gunman and Teakesha Jones, 36, is identified as the woman in the car, Brown said. Authorities said they believe Bullock and Jones live in the 1600 block of Marston Street. They are charged with attempted murder, aggravated assault, robbery, firearms violations and related offenses. Authorities said the two confessed to the crimes and said they were using crack cocaine when they held up Schultz because she was in the area at the time.

"Now the violence has affected health care," Inderwies said. "Somebody messed with one of our staff. What's worse is that her mother heard it all on a cell phone as somebody said, 'Shoot the bitch.'"


Contact staff writer Joseph A. Slobodzian at 215-854-2985 or jslobodzian@phillynews.com.

Inquirer staff writer Barbara Boyer contributed to this article.

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