Sandy Hook changes hospital business, patient practices

With the nation in mourning after the Sandy Hook tragedy, providers, too, are taking the elementary school shooting to heart. Since the Friday massacre in Newtown, Conn., provider groups have rallied for greater gun control laws and mental health services, and one major hospital system's parent company is selling off its gun holdings.

Cerberus Capital Management, the parent company of Massachusetts-based Steward Health Care, is selling its gun holdings of Freedom Group, worth $900 million in revenue this year, The New York Times reported. The private investment firm owns the largest manufacturer of guns in the country.

The semiautomatic weapon used at the school shooting was made by Bushmaster Firearms, one of the companies under Freedom Group, Bloomberg Businessweek reported.

In addition to pressure from a California teachers' pension fund--a major contributor in Cerberus--there may have been other reasons for the sudden decision to sell. Although Cerberus founder Stephen Feinberg is a gun enthusiastic, his father, Martin Feinberg, lives in Newtown, where the massacre occurred, Bloomberg reported.

Cerberus pointed out that Freedom Group doesn't sell weapons directly to consumers but only to licensed firearm distributors.

Still, in this rare move, the Wall Street firm yielded on a social concern rather than prioritize a for-profit investment, the NYT noted.

"It is apparent that the Sandy Hook tragedy was a watershed event that has raised the national debate on gun control to an unprecedented level," Cerberus said in a Tuesday statement. "Our role is to make investments on behalf of our clients who are comprised of the pension plans of firemen, teachers, policemen and other municipal workers and unions, endowments, and other institutions and individuals. It is not our role to take positions or attempt to shape or influence the gun control policy debate. … There are, however, actions that we as a firm can take."

Major provider organizations also have taken a strong stance on gun control.

The American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP) yesterday called for a ban on selling assault weapons and asked for legislation to increase mental health services and funding for "firearms injury prevention research."

Calling it a "major public health concern," the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) also said the threat of violence should be treated comprehensively and preventatively.

Earlier this year, AAFP was one of the provider groups that successfully urged Florida lawmakers to overturn the "gun gag" rule, which had prevented physicians from asking patients about guns in the house. Other physician groups that filed suit to block the Firearm Owners' Privacy Act included the American Academy of Pediatrics and American College of Physicians.

The American Medical Association last month, similarly filed a friend-of-the-court brief, opposing Florida's attempt to revive the Firearm Owners' Privacy Act.

AMA President Jeremy Lazarus called for the protection of the "doctor-patient relationship, allowing physicians to discuss firearm safety with parents and adults," he wrote in a blog post Sunday. "We can decrease gun accidents by having frank conversations between the physician and patient."

For more information:
- check out the NYT article
- here's the Bloomberg article
- read the Cerberus statement
- here are the statements from ACEP and AAFP
- see the AMA blog post and announcement on the amicus brief

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