fbpx
Published in Health Care
Dr. Brian Stork, a urologist with Michigan Medicine in Muskegon and a director of the Michigan State Medical Society, testified March 1 to the state House Judiciary Committee in support of a package of bills aimed at curbing gun violence in the wake of campus shootings at MSU. Dr. Brian Stork, a urologist with Michigan Medicine in Muskegon and a director of the Michigan State Medical Society, testified March 1 to the state House Judiciary Committee in support of a package of bills aimed at curbing gun violence in the wake of campus shootings at MSU. COURTESY PHOTO

Citing public health crisis, care providers step up role against gun violence

BY Sunday, March 12, 2023 06:00pm

Health care providers who have long advocated on behalf of patients and for their profession have become increasingly vocal on another front: gun violence.

In considering gun violence a public health crisis in America, physicians and other care providers bring another voice to the debate that for years has been mired in the political rhetoric of gun control versus gun owner rights.

To stem the country’s seemingly nonstop mass shootings such as the Feb. 13 incident at Michigan State University, care providers say a broad, holistic approach is needed to address gun violence that can position the issue differently and without the usual politics.

“We’re all tired of this unrelenting violence. We’re tired of what it’s doing to our children. We’re tired of what it’s doing to our communities and to our state, not only the physical and emotional injuries but this long-term trauma that everybody suffers,” Dr. Brian Stork, a urologist with Michigan Medicine in Muskegon, told MiBiz. “This violence is traumatizing an entire generation at a time when we really lack mental health resources across the state. We don’t have enough mental health resources to help prevent this or to deal with this aftermath.

“Most people can agree that gun safety is important. Most people can agree that public health is important. When we frame the issue appropriately, then I think we can make progress on it.”

On behalf of the Michigan State Medical Society, where he serves as a director, Stork testified March 1 to the state House Judiciary Committee, where he spoke in support of a package of bills Democrats introduced after the MSU campus shootings that killed three students and critically injured five others.

“We’re traumatizing an entire generation,” Stork said in a recent interview with MiBiz, during which he described how he became an advocate on preventing gun violence.

 

Acting together

Stork was called into the ER at Trinity Health Muskegon one night in 2017 to help treat a teenaged gunshot victim who had damage to his urinary tube. After treating the victim and talking to about 20 of his family and friends, who all were downcast as he spoke with them, Stork learned from the ICU nurses that it was the third time the patient had suffered a gunshot wound.

“We went to medical school to help people. The way to help people with this particular problem is to prevent it in the first place,” he said.

That prevention starts with increased funding for mental health and “then we want to continue the conversation about other legislative solutions,” Stork said.

Directors at the Michigan State Medical Society, an organization representing more than 15,000 doctors across the state, voted last fall to make gun violence prevention a priority, Stork said. The move brings to the issue a new and influential lobbying force in Lansing on gun violence.

In a statement the day after the MSU campus shootings, Medical Society President Dr. Thomas Veverka said gun violence was a societal issue that physicians have a role in addressing.

“Together, we must find solutions to put a stop to the senseless public health risk of violence before more lives are lost,” Veverka said. “We as physicians work to identify mental health issues and other concerns that could lead to tragedy, and we strongly support federal and state efforts to ensure that physicians can fulfill that role in preventing firearm deaths by health screening, patient counseling on gun safety, and referral to mental health services for those with behavioral and emotional medical conditions. 

“We need to deploy a complete array of cultural, social, medical, legal, and educational tools and assets. We need to do it together.”

 

Finding solutions

On a national level, the American Medical Association’s House of Delegates six years ago declared gun violence a public health crisis. In November 2022, citing the more than 45,000 gun-related deaths annually in the U.S., the AMA House of Delegates voted to create a task force on preventing gun violence to examine what President Dr. Jack Resneck Jr. called “common-sense, evidence-based solutions.”

In the past, the AMA has supported waiting periods to buy a gun, background checks, enhanced access to mental health care, gun safety education and other restrictions.

Bills in the Democratic-controlled state Legislature include requiring safe storage of guns by owners, universal background checks and waiting periods to buy a gun, and a red-flag law that allows law enforcement to seize the weapon of a person deemed a high risk and is subject to an emergency risk protection order.

The Michigan State Medical Society backs each of those measures, along with increased funding for mental health care, Stork said.

The bills have drawn opposition from gun-rights and sportsmen’s organizations in committee hearings in both the House and Senate.

The Michigan Health & Hospital Association has not taken a formal position on any of the bills, although “it’s certainly possible that we do at some point,” CEO Brian Peters said.

Care providers clearly should have a role in addressing gun violence from a broad perspective, Peters said. The MHA’s members and board of trustees “has been talking about this issue of gun violence for some time from the lens of a public health problem,” he said.

 

Tackling social determinants of health

Health care leaders can view gun violence prevention similarly to their stances on other social ills and public health issues, Peters said. He cites the industry’s move to address the opioid epidemic over the past decade “that was a real crisis” and led to the deaths of thousands of people and “shattered more families than I can count,” or its efforts decades ago to rally support against smoking and its related health hazards.

In recent years, hospitals also have become much more involved in “social determinants of health” such as transportation, health equity, food insecurity, “and gun violence really falls into this category of a social issue that is leading to bad health outcomes,” Peters said.

“We know that something has to give, whether that’s increased focus on behavioral health, and we think that’s a huge piece of this puzzle, whether it’s public policy that makes it less likely to see these mass shooting events,” he said. “We know it’s time to step up and do something from a public policy perspective. As the entities that see the results of this violence firsthand, we are the ones that are treating gunshot victims and treating the victims of all sorts of other domestic violence situations as well.

“If we treat it as such, that will divert and devote much-needed attention and resources to the problem.”

That includes voicing not just the toll violence takes on victims and families, but the emotional effects on caregivers who treat victims, Peters said.

The issue has no single answer and needs to be addressed on multiple fronts “to really make a significant difference,” he said, noting the extent of the problem is more than a single organization or individual can change.

“It is like the other social ills that we’ve confronted over time where it’s the churches coming together with the business community, with law enforcement, and hospitals and health care providers. That’s the sort of coming together that it takes to move the needle on anything,” Peters said.

  

Med school students weigh in

Medical school students in Michigan, led by a student at MSU’s College of Human Medicine, also have joined the debate around gun violence prevention. An organization known as SAFE, short for Scrubs Addressing Firearm Epidemic, has been circulating a letter for medical students to sign and send to legislators. 

The letter urges lawmakers to support background checks, a law that would require gun owners to secure their weapon to prevent access by children and a red-flag law. It also pushes for the “creation of school threat assessment programs to help identify students at risk of violence and provide them with help through community intervention programs.” 

According to the letter: “As the next generation of physicians, we have witnessed, far too often, the toll of firearm violence during our training. We have watched members of our communities suffer from gunshot wounds in the trauma bay. We have counseled their family members. We have had the unfortunate experience, a moment which every physician dreads, of saying ‘we did everything we could, but ultimately could not save your loved one.’”

The letter, with 732 signatures, was sent Feb. 21 to all state legislators. 

Read 1695 times Last modified on Sunday, 12 March 2023 20:04
SUBSCRIBE TO MIBIZ TODAY FOR WEST MICHIGAN’S FINEST BUSINESS NEWS REPORTING >