Health system execs, personnel urge Congress to back Biden's $5B for gun violence interventions

Eighteen hospitals and health system executives and more than 1,300 healthcare personnel are urging Congressional leaders to support the Biden administration’s proposal to fund hospital-based gun violence intervention programs.

As part of the American Jobs Plan and its full-year 2022 discretionary budget request, the administration sought a more than $5 billion investment into community programs that connect those likely to commit gun violence with social, health and economic support services.

In the letter addressed to majority and minority party leaders in the House and Senate, the systems and professionals described gun violence as a non-partisan public health issue. Similar to COVID-19, the issue can be addressed by “collecting data to understand the scope and complexity of gun violence, conducting research to identify root causes and risk factors, and implementing policies and interventions proven to work, like hospital-based violence intervention programs (HVIPs),” they wrote.

Through HVIPs, providers who provide care to non-fatal gunshot patients can spot those at high risk for re-injury and connect them with case managers, they wrote, both helping the individual and forging new relationships between the hospital and its community.

To illustrate the impact, the group pointed to a Baltimore program that brought participants’ reinjury rates “as low as 5%.” Those with a history of violent injury are usually 45% more likely to be readmitted with another such injury within five years, they said.

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“As health care leaders on the front lines of the gun violence epidemic, we urge Congress to take an important step forward by providing $5 billion in funding for HVIPs and other community violence intervention programs through the American Jobs Plan,” they wrote in the letter. “This investment is a critical component of the comprehensive public health approach necessary to curb this epidemic and mitigate the toll we see gun violence take on our patients every day.”

Executives from Northwell Health, CommonSpirit Health, Trinity Health, New York-Presbyterian and Intermountain were among the 18 health system executives to sign onto the letter. Other professionals joining the call included physicians, nurses, case managers, chief medical officers, professors, therapists and administrators.

The letter came roughly one week after a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report quantifying the number of admissions related to firearm injuries in the U.S. and healthcare costs associated with them.

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Using hospital data collected by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality between 2016 and 2017, GAO estimated that there are roughly 30,000 inpatient stays and 50,000 emergency department visits tied to firearm injuries. The office placed the initial hospital cost of a firearm injury was just over $1 billion per year but noted that additional physician costs could add an extra 20% to that total.

Citing another study, GAO found that 16% of those discharged from a hospital after a firearm injury were readmitted within a year. Their average costs ranged from $8,000 to $11,000 per patient.

GAO was unable to find timely data on the long-term healthcare costs of firearm data but cited interviews with clinical experts suggesting that some patients require both physical and behavioral healthcare needs for the remainder of their lives.

“These experts also told GAO that survivors often face barriers to receiving needed care, such as being denied care when it is not covered by their insurance,” the office wrote in its report. “While not receiving needed services may minimize costs initially, the consequences of unmet health needs for firearm injury survivors may ultimately result in greater costs.”