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UPMC's silence upsets family of therapist slain at Western Psych

Luis Fábregas
| Friday, March 16, 2012

As the family of shooting victim Michael Schaab entered the Petersen Events Center for a basketball game this week, security officers patted them down and checked their purses.

Barely a week before and a block away, no one stopped an armed John F. Shick from carrying two pistols into Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic, where he fatally shot Schaab and wounded five people before police killed the gunman.

"It was a weird irony," Megan Shively, Schaab's fiancee, told the Tribune-Review on Thursday. Shively, 26, accompanied Schaab's parents and other relatives to the Oakland sporting venue as guests of the University of Pittsburgh, which honored Schaab during the game. "Mike and I always thought it didn't make sense that you could go into Western Psych so easily, and here we are at a basketball game and we're patted down."

Two days after burying their son, Harry and Mary Schaab expressed anger and confusion over the lack of security at the psychiatric facility where Mike, 25, worked as a therapist. In an hourlong interview at the kitchen table of Mary Schaab's sister in Monroeville, the grieving parents said they never realized anyone could walk into the hospital without going through a metal detector.

The family's anger is compounded by the silence of UPMC, which operates Western Psych and whose officials have not called to express condolences.

"The security has to change," said Harry Schaab, 51, whose family owns the Old Route 66 Grille in Greensburg. "When you have people coming in with mental problems, the security has to be more intense than just a regular hospital."

UPMC officials said they would not answer questions about security measures. There is a metal detector in the hospital's emergency department, and nurses on patient floors use hand-held devices to check visitors.

Shick, 30, of Oakland, who sources said had been evaluated at an outpatient clinic that is part of Western Psych, walked into the hospital's lobby at 1:42 p.m. March 8. Detectives told the Schaabs that their son, who walked in the door carrying his lunch from McDonald's 17 seconds after the gunman, was the third person he shot. Police have not said if they have determined a motive in the shooting.

Security at the Oakland hospital also worries officials at the union that represents about 200 Western Psych workers. It is calling for a comprehensive review of UPMC's workplace violence prevention efforts.

"This tragedy has highlighted a very serious problem for health care workers," said Neil Bisno, president of SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania.

Two union members were hurt in the shooting, but Bisno did not identify them.

As they watched TV reports that day, the Schaabs and Shively could not get in touch with Mike. Shively texted him several times. Something told her that he was OK because he worked on the 12th floor. And UPMC was saying it had notified families of all victims. State police told the Schaabs after 10 p.m. that Mike had died.

"UPMC never contacted us," Mary Schaab said. "It makes you feel very angry. You have this sense of worry, then a sense of relief because you hear all the families are notified, then this sense of devastation."

"The Western Psych and UPMC families are so saddened by this and in all sincerity has reached out to the family and will continue to do so," said UPMC spokeswoman Gloria Kreps.

Top leaders from Western Psych and many of Schaab's colleagues attended his funeral, Kreps said. The facility plans to hold a memorial service in Schaab's honor.

With little information, the Schaabs called on Western Psych officials and requested a meeting. On the day after the shooting, they met with Kim Owens, one of the facility's vice presidents. The parents traveled to the hospital but did not enter through the main lobby.

They said Owens, who knew their son, showed concern but could not provide answers to many of their questions, even whether their son had a locker with personal possessions. In order to get information about death benefits, they were asked to supply proof that their son had died.

"How can a hospital that deals with death and dying and healing treat people this way?" asked Joe Daum, Mary Schaab's brother.

The family said they were grateful to Pitt leaders, including Chancellor Mark Nordenberg, who sent letters expressing sympathy. The family received dozens of letters from people in the community, even children as young as 8.

The Schaabs want to know if the gunman had a history of psychiatric illness and if he fell through the cracks of the medical system, unable to get the care that he needed.

The couple showed off dozens of pictures of their son, described as smart, happy and actively involved in the planning of his wedding to Shively. The couple, who met while working at Western Psych, had scheduled their wedding for March 23, 2013, in Heinz Chapel.

"We lost a son, but Megan lost her future," Harry Schaab said, choking on tears.

He and his wife lost their only other child, Nancy, two years ago. "I'm never going to have grandkids now," he said. "I'm going to live the rest of my life without my two children. It's never going to be the same."

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