The role of hospitals in preventing gun violence

The rising violence in the United States not only has an effect on the physical and mental health in the local community, it also drains hospital resources. Becker's Hospital Review asked three health experts from Chicago what role, if any, the healthcare industry should play in reducing gun violence.

The problem should be considered a public health issue, one that comes at a great cost to hospitals. Shannon Cosgrove, director of health innovation for Cure Violence, an organization that applies disease prevention models to violence, told Becker's that it can cost $1 million to treat the most critical gunshot patients. In addition to the physical wounds, health leaders must consider the mental trauma to the patients and the community.

In most cases, the victims are poor, underserved and uninsured, she said. As a result, hospitals will have to cover the cost of treatment. Staff also suffer as they care for the victim, but also must deal with police who are investigating the incident and potential assailants who want to enter the patient's room to kill the patient.

Faran Bokhari, M.D., chairman of the Cook County Trauma & Burn Unit at John H. Stroger Jr., Hospital, agreed that staff are also secondary victims in gun shooting cases. "As far as staff goes, it is very psychologically taxing because it's so sudden," he told Becker's. "It's not like cancer where it is expected. It's emotionally taxing for the staff."

To address gun violence, Cosgrove advocates for hospital-based violence intervention programs that include a social worker or someone from a crisis response team to respond to these victims.

The programs operate on the idea that interventions are a long-term investment in creating a healthy community, which improves both the patient population's health and the provider's bottom line, FieceHealthcare previously reported.

In Seattle, Harborview Medical Center treats gun violence just as it does substance abuse. The program adopts strategies typically used in alcohol or substance abuse interventions, such as physicians and social workers maintaining communication with patients after discharge.

But Catherine Humikowski, M.D., medical director of the University of Chicago Medicine's pediatric intensive care unit, believes that physicians and health organization have to play a bigger role on the state and national level to truly reduce violence in their communities.

"We need to think bigger and more globally," she told Becker's. "How do we get guns off the streets? How do we keep them out of the hands of criminals? How do we as physicians, lobby for that on a national level to recognize that this really is a public health problem?"

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