I awoke early Friday, Sept. 20, in my Nashville hotel room and flipped on CNN as I got ready for the day. Typically when traveling, CNN is background noise while I'm brushing my teeth and ironing my socks. This day, though, I was stopped in my tracks when the anchor said they were going to Chicago for a live report about a mass shooting on the city's South Side. Thirteen people, including a 3-year-old boy, were injured. Most of them were just hanging out on a nice fall night watching a basketball game at a local park.
Reports of gang-related violence in such tough Chicago neighborhoods as the Back of the Yards are becoming all-too-common. Chicago recorded more homicides than any city in the country last year, according FBI data. This year, we've been dubbed "Murder Capital of the Country" by numerous media outlets. It's a sad reality of life in the City of Broad Shoulders.
Unfortunately, this story is playing out in communities across the nation, and hospital emergency departments are on the frontline. Your staff see these victims streaming in on stretcher after stretcher. They carry out the herculean task of removing bullets, stitching up wounds and saving as many lives as possible. But how many of those lives are truly saved and how many go back out into harm's way?
Some hospitals are going beyond sutures and bandages, engaging with other community leaders to try to stop violence before more lives are taken too early.
"I always say that all social and community failures eventually find their way to the hospital, and certainly the results of violence mean that people do wind up in hospitals in pretty critical condition," AHA President and CEO Rich Umbdenstock told my colleague Marty Stempniak last month. "It's critical for hospitals to do whatever they can to either get upstream in the community, working with others to reduce violence, or taking the opportunity when someone is within the hospital's reach to try to prevent somebody from finding themselves in the same situation and winding up a patient again, or harmed even worse than that."
(Read more of Marty's interview with Umbdenstock, as well as see a video of his conversation with Gary Slutkin, M.D., founder of Cure Violence.)
Shortly before the shootings in Chicago and Washington, D.C.'s Navy Yard, the AHA released a report on hospitals' efforts to reduce violence, including.
• Chicago's Northwestern Hospital: As a CeaseFire partner, Northwestern's ED is staffed with violence interrupters who are trained to "intervene and minimize the risk of retaliation or repeat injury."
• Massachusetts General Hospital: Through the Police Action Counseling Team, clinical social workers ride along with Chelsea police responding to 911 calls when children are present. They provide immediate counseling and interventions.
• Wishard Health Services: Prescription for Hope pairs hospital staff with community organizations to develop health, education and employment opportunities for victims of violence in Indianapolis.
Rather than get entangled in the politically-charged gun control debate, Umbdenstock says that the report, "Reducing Violence in Our Communities," shows how hospitals can play "an appropriate role" in helping to prevent violence.
— You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org.