In a public-facing effort, the American Hospital Association hosted a national day of awareness Friday to highlight what hospitals and health systems are doing to combat violence in and outside of their facilities.
Such efforts date back years, but recent shootings in the city and across the U.S. have spurred many hospitals to double down.
In 2018, in response to the mass shooting at a school in Parkland, Florida, the Greater New York Hospital Association released a five-point plan advising lawmakers on how to address the issue. Kenneth Raske, the association’s president, said the problem has since only worsened, making healthcare interventions even more urgent.
“I firmly believe that the healthcare community—treating gun violence as a major public health issue—is uniquely positioned to spearhead meaningful change,” he wrote in a memo last week to healthcare executives.
At Jamaica Hospital Medical Center in Queens, which claims to have the city’s busiest level-one trauma center, clinicians are launching a violence intervention program called Thrive.
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The program, an acronym for Trauma Healing and Recovery and Integrative Violence Elimination, will assign community-based health workers to work with survivors for one year post-discharge and connect them to physical and mental healthcare and social services.
Dr. Alan Roth, who chairs the hospital’s department of family medicine, said more than half of the patients treated at Jamaica Hospital for injuries related to violence have been there before as a victim of violence. The goal of Thrive, he said, is to go beyond healing those wounds and address the “why” behind the violence.
Northwell Health has a universal screening program to identify patients at risk of injury or death from a firearm, which it developed with a $1.4 million grant from the National Institutes of Health. For patients deemed at risk, clinicians advise them about safe storage of firearms and provide gun locks and information about buyback programs.
The system’s Center for Gun Violence Prevention, which formed in 2020, is now working with hundreds of hospitals and health systems across the U.S. to develop and share best practices.
“We’re trying to normalize the way we talk about guns in the healthcare setting,” said Dr. Chethan Sathya, a pediatric trauma surgeon and the center’s director.
Sathya said that Northwell now screens thousands of patients per month for risk of gun-related injury or death, whether due to suicide, unintentional injury or violence. It will soon hire its own violence interrupters thanks to a $557,500 grant from the state, part of a $30 million initiative announced last year by Gov. Kathy Hochul to expand gun violence intervention programs.
The city is meanwhile spearheading its own efforts, such as the NYC Health + Hospitals Guns Down Life Up program, which provides crisis intervention services and aims to disrupt violence by connecting kids with extracurricular activities. Last week Mayor Eric Adams announced the launch of a new gun violence prevention task force and named Andre T. Mitchell, founder and CEO of anti-violence nonprofit Man Up!, as its co-chair.
The Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice last Monday published notice of three contracts it intends to award for violence interruption and mediation services at the three hospital trauma centers that rank the highest in gunshot injuries, but a spokesperson was unable to name the hospitals or provide details about the value of the contracts.
Hospitals and health systems also have to contend with the risk of gun violence within their own facilities, as when a gunman last week killed four at a hospital in Tulsa, Ok., where he had undergone surgery.
Joseph D’Amico, head of security for Montefiore Health System, said the organization has contracted with Massachusetts firm Evolv Technology to install weapons detection systems in the lobbies and emergency departments of several hospitals. The devices could be in place in a matter of weeks, he said.
D’Amico declined to disclose the value of the contract but said Montefiore is paying somewhere in the high six figures to lease several of the machines for a four-year term.
He said what sealed the deal for Montefiore was a shooting in January at NYC Health + Hospitals/Jacobi in the Bronx, when a man fired at a patient in the emergency room’s waiting area.
“It really was the catalyst to implement it,” he said.
Although mass shootings at hospitals are statistically rare, D’Amico said New Yorkers are increasingly on edge and that health care workers want to be prepared.
New York could also soon see an influx of even more firearms, thanks to a lawsuit lodged by the New York State Rifle & Pistol Association against a state restriction on who may carry a concealed handgun in public. The Supreme Court will soon issue its ruling in the case.
Northwell’s Sathya said that health care workers can succeed in violence intervention efforts by leaving the Constitution’s Second Amendment, with its “right to bear arms,” out of the conversation. He advised approaching patients with empathy and an open mind and discussing the issue no differently than they might with drowning prevention or exercise and nutrition.
“We’re focusing on this from an apolitical, harm reduction standpoint,” he said. “We all want safer communities.”
This story first appeared in our sister publication, Crain's New York Business.