Hospital CEOs meet with White House on gun violence prevention

Dozens of health system executives traveled to the White House June 6 to meet about public health and hospital-based strategies to address gun violence in the U.S. 

More than 80 healthcare executives attended the meeting hosted by the White House Office of Gun Violence Prevention, established in 2023. 

Michael Dowling, president and CEO of Northwell Health, and Rob Allen, president and CEO of Intermountain Health, were among health system attendees. Mr. Dowling initiated the creation of the CEO Council on Gun Violence Prevention & Safety, of which Mr. Allen serves as a member. Twenty-six other council members and about 20 other hospital or health system executives were invited to the summit. 

"I applaud the White House for its historic commitments to gun violence prevention and welcome its continued support in providing funding and other assistance that will further help hospitals, health systems and clinicians to become part of the solution in mitigating street violence, suicide and unintentional shootings," said Mr. Dowling. "As caregivers on the front lines of keeping their patients and communities safe, healthcare providers have a unique responsibility to do everything possible to combat the nation's gun violence epidemic the same way we've met the challenges of previous public health crises."

In Utah, where Intermountain is based, suicide is the leading cause of preventable death, with suicides representing the majority of all firearm deaths in the state. As Mr. Allen pointed out, Utah mirrors a national trend.

"An important takeaway from today's meeting is the need to sharpen our focus on mental health," Mr. Allen said. "Suicides continue to account for the majority of U.S. gun deaths, increasing every year since 2019 to more than 24,000 last year. The responsibility to reverse this heartbreaking trend rests with all of us, which is why Intermountain instituted a suicide prevention care process model that guides our efforts to assess and treat patients with suicidal thoughts, feelings or behaviors."

The White House meeting took place on the eve of the 10th annual National Gun Violence Awareness Day, providing one more venue for health system leaders to gather and compare strategies for how their organizations are addressing gun violence among patient populations and in their communities. 

Such venues are still relatively new, and there were first met with some reluctance around health system involvement in the cause. Mr. Dowling established Northwell’s Center for Gun Violence Prevention in 2020 and launched the Gun Violence Prevention Learning Collaborative for Hospitals and Health Systems in 2021. This initiative has brought together over 600 healthcare professionals to share best practices, with 40% of members starting or expanding evidence-based firearm injury prevention strategies.

A primary focus of the meeting was to improve data-sharing on gunshot wounds, with hospital emergency departments collecting and reporting more detailed information on the injuries they treat, The Washington Post reported. 

Interest from the White House in data collection from hospital emergency departments regarding firearm injuries would complement ongoing efforts in this area, given the surge in emergency department visits for firearm injuries among children throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Northwell is developing a universal screening program to identify patients at risk of gun violence and firearm injury, recognized by The Atlantic in April. The trial has screened approximately 45,000 patients, helping to identify those who might otherwise be missed, such as a 13-year-old threatened with guns by bullies, allowing for timely intervention by social workers and the school.

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