How Health Systems Can Reduce Gun Violence, Here’s What Kaiser Permanente Is Doing

Gun Rights

With at least 25,874 gun violence deaths and 22,706 injuries in the U.S. so far in 2022, based on data from on the Gun Violence Archive, gun violence is clearly a hospital and health system issue. After all, those are the places where people tend to go after getting shot. That’s why Kaiser Permanente and the American Hospital Association sponsored a National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) workshop in 2018 that looked at how hospitals and health systems could help prevent firearm injuries and deaths. That same year, Kaiser Permanente announced the formation of their Firearm Injury Prevention Task Force along with a $2 million research fund to review an establish new best practices in preventing gun-related injuries and death. And now Kaiser Permanente has just launched a new Center for Gun Violence Research and Education.

That year, 2018, was also when the National Rifle Association (NRA) told medical doctors who had been trying to raise awareness about the growing gun violence problem in the U.S. to “stay in their lane,” in a tweet-connected editorial. Well, as I covered for Forbes on November 11, 2018, that lane remark went over about as well as a lead balloon in a rainstorm over a magnetized floor. If the NRA thought that remark would push away the medical community from the issue, they had another thing coming, to borrow some words from that Judas Priest song. Not surprisingly, numerous doctors pushed back and emphasized in an even louder manner that gun violence is unfortunately well within their lane. That’s what happens when over 320 gun violence victims show up each day in emergency rooms across America, according to a study published in JAMA Internal Medicine in 2020. Gun violence has become a “leading cause of premature death” in this country, according to the American Public Health Association (APHA). In fact, gun violence has become the number one cause of death among those from 1 to 19 years of age in the U.S.

Yet, for over two decades since the 1990’s, the U.S. Congress had refused to allocate any significant amount of federal funding for the study of gun violence and safety before finally relenting in 2019, as I covered for Forbes in December 2019. This historical lack of funding may have kept different healthcare systems and medical schools around the country from making gun violence more of a research priority, because guess what, surprise, surprise, research priorities often follow the money. But that lack of funding prior to 2019 didn’t prevent Kaiser Permanente from making its own investment in 2018, as they ended up funding three 24-month clinical research studies that involved developing and integrating firearm suicide prevention tools and better understanding the risk factors of firearm-related injuries and death.

“There’s been a longstanding lack of funding for gun violence research,” said Bechara Choucair, MD, senior vice president and chief health officer at Kaiser Permanente. “While there’s been lots of research over the past decade in other areas, there hasn’t been nearly as much in gun violence.” Kaiser Permanente’s initiatives will “Help build the evidence, allowing clinicians and researchers to approach gun violence research with the same rigor [as has been done with other areas]. We’re thrilled about the progress of the three projects.”

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And now the establishment of the Center will further amp up Kaiser Permanente’s investment in the area with another $1.3 million in funding. This time the funding will help establish not only the Center but also collaborations with a set of nonprofit organizational partners via grants that have been already awarded. The nine awardees include:

  • The Ad Council: To expand their End Family Fire campaign that aims to help families store guns in safer manners
  • The Association of State and Territorial Health Officials (ASTHO): To develop gun violence and suicide prevention materials and organize a national summit.
  • The Big Cities Health Coalition: To help educate the public on public health approaches to gun violence prevention
  • The Health Alliance for Violence Intervention (The HAVI): To bring together researchers and experts to study how hospital violence intervention programs (HVIPs) may prevent gun violence
  • The Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Violence Solutions: To study the use of extreme risk protective orders and how clinicians can raise awareness of such measures
  • The National Institute for Criminal Justice Reform (NICJR): To support their violence reduction initiatives
  • The RAND Corporation: To support their 2022 National Research Conference on Firearm Injury Prevention
  • The University of California, Davis: To support their Violence Prevention Research Program
  • The University of California, San Diego: To support their Center on Gender Equity and Health, along with their “California Study on Violence Experiences Across the Lifespan.”

Here’s a tweet from Kaiser Permanente on their new Center and a response from the End Family Fire campaign:

“[Through the new Center], we will approach solutions from a public health framework,” Choucair explained. “We need to go upstream to identify root causes of gun violence and identify systems levels change.” He also mentioned how the Center will “aim to reduce the impact of gun violence. We will be working to reduce emotional and psychological trauma.”

Obviously, gun violence has a serious impact on its victims. No one really says, “Other than getting shot, the day’s been good.” Clearly, gun violence adversely affects those around the victims in many awful ways, especially when the victims are permanently injured or killed from gun shot wounds. Then there’s the economic consequences. A report from Everytown Research and Policy estimated that gun violence costs America around $557 billion a year or about 2.6 percent of the U.S. Gross Domestic Product. This includes an average of $7.79 million each day (yes, each day) in health care costs plus patient transportation/ambulance costs paid out by survivors and their families as well as employers and taxpayers. And you are bound to fall into at least one of these groups, assuming that you are one of those folks in this country who pays taxes. With this massive impact and resources being drawn from other aspects of healthcare, health systems investing more money to find and implement ways to prevent gun violence should make dollars and a whole lot of sense.

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