Gun violence is a public health threat, Tower Health hospital CEO tells lawmakers

Charles Barbera, MD, president and CEO of Tower Health's Reading Hospital in West Reading, Pa., told state lawmakers that unlike progress made in cancer treatments, motor vehicle safety and heart disease, the U.S. is "losing the ground to gun violence." 

During a March 23 State House Judiciary Committee hearing, Dr. Barbera shared his own experiences related to the issue and the effects of gun violence in healthcare. 

"In my many years as an emergency physician, I have personally seen the devastation caused by firearms, both by accident and by intent," Dr. Barbera told lawmakers, according to his remarks shared with Becker's. "My colleagues and I at Reading Hospital have treated thousands of victims of guns. We have treated the physical destruction and disfigurement. And, far too often, we have had to tell family and friends that a bullet has taken the life of their loved one. We never get used to it."

Dr. Barbera also noted the effects of gun violence at hospitals across the U.S. At Reading Hospital, In 2022, Reading Hospital treated 100 patients with gun-related injuries, he said. That's an increase from 60 in 2019.  

"We can and must do better for the people of Pennsylvania, especially with the leadership of our elected officials," Dr. Barbera told lawmakers. "I am speaking today as a physician and a hospital leader. When we have faced public health issues in the past, we have worked together to find solutions."

He said Reading Hospital and Tower Health are working to address the issue, including through a recently received $193,000 grant from the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency to support patients who suffer from gun violence. 

He said healthcare organizations are also supporting public education about gun safety. However, he called on lawmakers to take additional steps.

"We need to do more. You are the legislative and legal experts who can determine what is possible," Dr. Barbera told lawmakers. "But I hope you can develop solutions to encourage safe storage of firearms in the home, strengthen requirements to report lost or stolen guns, close loopholes in background checks, and improve access to mental health services."

He added that "with so many other health issues, the best medicine is prevention. We look to our leaders in Harrisburg and are committed to working with you. The lives of our citizens are too important to do nothing."

Addressing gun violence is something that healthcare leaders across the nation have gotten involved in. This includes CEOs from some of the nation's largest health systems who have pledged to use their voices and resources to curb gun violence.

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