Northwell Health's leadership is trying to spur the hospital industry to take action on gun violence.
Michael Dowling, president and CEO of New York-based Northwell Health system, said the need for the healthcare industry to break its collective silence on gun violence was the impetus behind a new marketing campaign the system launched Thursday in the New York Times to call on providers to become more vocal in advocating for gun legislation.
"If we're in the business of health and in the business of protecting our communities, then I do think there is a responsibility and obligation of healthcare organizations to actually raise their voices about this, and hopefully do it in a collective way," Dowling said.
This month, Dowling sent a letter to the CEOs of the 30 top health systems in the country asking for their support to leverage their collective influence and resources to lobby lawmakers to take action on gun control and to work to spark a rational public conversation about what to do about the problem.
The campaign calls for healthcare providers to put pressure on lawmakers who fail to support 'sensible' gun control legislation, of which he includes background checks. Recent reports say President Donald Trump has reversed his previous support for tighter background checks following the deaths of 31 people from mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio this month.
Dowling also called for increased investment in mental healthcare services, which Trump has also called for in light of the shootings. But Dowling added the need to increase more funding for behavioral health should not be used to say mental illness is a cause for mass shootings.
Others in healthcare agree. "We need our public officials, including the President, to stop scapegoating people with mental health conditions," said Paul Gionfriddo, president and CEO of Mental Health America, in statement responding to assertions of a link between gun violence and mental illness. "That's a 19th century solution to a 21st century challenge."
A number of the country's leading medical organizations, including the American Medical Association and the American College of Emergency Physicians have been at the forefront of advocating for government action to address gun violence.
Dowling said he has received positive feedback from those who received his letter, with several stating they support the effort. Ken Raske, President and CEO of the Greater New York Hospital Association, said the organization recently re-issued a statement first adopted in the aftermath of last year's shooting in Parkland, Fla., that called for lawmakers to outlaw assault rifles, enhance background checks, and invest in mental healthcare services.
"He's right on point," Raske said regarding Northwell's campaign effort. "This is a public health crisis, and we in the healthcare community have to take the lead on pointing that out."
It is unclear how long Northwell will run its advertising campaign.
But even as the calls grow louder for policy action on gun violence, a lingering question remains as to the best policies lawmakers can implement to reduce the thousands of deaths and injuries that occur each year due to firearms.
A de facto federal funding ban on public health research on gun violence that has been in effect for more than two decades has limited the number of answers experts currently have regarding some of the most important questions about the nature of gun violence.
"I think what is missing and something that the medical community can contribute is objective, fact-based research," said Douglas Younger, executive director for the American Foundation for Firearm Injury Reduction in Medicine, a not-for-profit organization led by medical researchers working on finding solutions to gun violence. "We need guidance as to what's really happening and what are the programs that after implementation are improving firearm response and even preventing gun violence with the general public."