The recent tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut, makes me stop and ask the question, “are we at University Hospital prepared if such an event were to occur in our community?” Every time I have thought about this, the obvious answer is “yes, we are”. On a regular basis our providers, ancillary personnel, and staff care for patients who are critically ill or injured. We routinely care for victims of violence. We frequently manage mass casualty events. I have no hesitation in saying that the care that we could provide would be second to none.
Perhaps the better question to ask is “why do we have to be prepared for tragic events like this?” I think it is a question that the entire country is asking itself this week following these tragic shootings.
It seems inevitable that only a small amount of time will pass before the next gunshot victim is brought to University Hospital’s Emergency Department. The Emergency Department staff, Trauma Services, and others will dutifully and expeditiously care for such a person. Most likely, the violence will be senseless, brought on by some disagreement about money, drugs, or a domestic dispute. The easy availability of guns, their thoughtless use, and a culture without consequence, all seem to contribute to this ongoing carnage. As a healthcare institution and as healthcare providers, we must continue to strive to provide outstanding care in all these circumstances. However, I think we also have a responsibility to ask the question “why”, and to engage in the public debates about how to reshape the activities that result in such events.
Regardless of one’s stance on gun control, it is obvious that the country may have finally reached a tipping point. There are certainly lots of ways to try to decrease the human toll, and medical burden of such violence. As I have listened to the news and watched the media in the last week, there are a number of areas that seem ripe for further conversation:
- An all out ban on the sale or ownership of assault rifles.
- A ban on the sale or distribution of high volume ammunition cartridges.
- If not control of the guns, then control of the ammunition through ban or limitation of internet sales, and/or fingerprinting of ammunition.
- Improved screening for gun owners.
- Licensing for gun ownership.
As healthcare providers, we also have to focus on the individuals who participate in such tragic events. Clearly, the Newtown events should cause us to look at access to our mental health system. Parents with troubled children often have no easy place to go to get help. Access to out-patient mental health for the adolescent age group is difficult. School counselors often look the other way rather than becoming involved in the affairs of disturbed children. To often, all of us would rather not get involved and just simply say after the fact that someone “seemed odd”. All of these need to change in order to have meaningful reduction in violent events.
Finally, for me, I think the issue needs to be reframed from those who simply want to stand behind the gun ownership allowed in the second amendment, and shift attention to this as an issue of public safety. It really is about the greater good and the safety of the public at large. It is clear that there is a great divide at the present time relative to these issues. However, one can point to other times in history when there were equally great divides among the public on important topics of the day. This would include the days before Civil Rights was passed, and the recent changes in America’s attitude toward gay rights and gay marriage. It seems that we must now close the divide on gun control, and ownership.
I firmly believe that there is a great desire to learn the lessons of Aurora, Colorado and Newtown, Connecticut and to make meaningful change in the way we approach gun ownership, gun use, and mental health care in the country. Healthcare workers, who see the results of such carnage all the time, should be leading the way. I would challenge each of us at University Hospital to think about our own place on the continuum, and our own role effecting real and permanent change.