How children's hospitals are tackling gun safety

In the last two years, St. Louis Children's Hospital has given out about 5,000 free gun locks to anyone who needs them, no questions asked. Leaders at the hospital say the initiative is one example of how healthcare organizations can address the nation's gun violence epidemic and reduce the stigma of talking about gun safety, according to a Jan. 22 CNN report. 

In the hospital's triage waiting room, there is a clear basket with free gun locks and pamphlets explaining how to safely store firearms, what staff call the "No Questions Asked" basket. During the first two years of the pandemic, the hospital saw an increase in the number of patients with gun injuries. 

"We've had employees as well as patients take our locks, also their families and even a grandmother who took one for her grandson. It's for anyone who needs them," Lindsay Clukies, MD, a pediatric emergency medicine physician at the hospital, told the news outlet. 

St. Louis-based BJC Healthcare, which operates St. Louis Children's, plans to roll out baskets of the free locks across 17 of its locations over the next few weeks, according to CNN. In addition to the locks initiative, St. Louis Children's Hospital conducts gun safety screenings with all patients. Clinicians, social workers and violence intervention experts collaborated on a "non judgemental" script for how to initiate discussions on access to firearms. They ask questions such as "Do you have access to a firearm where your child lives or plays?" and "How is it stored?" 

The Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston takes a similar approach. 

"When I first started doing this, I would say, 'Are there any guns in the home? Yes, or no?' But I have found and learned from other experts that if you just say, 'If there are any guns in the home, do you mind telling me how they're secured?' it takes away the judgment," Annie Andrews, MD, a professor of pediatrics and the university, told CNN.

In recent months, dozens of health systems and children's hospitals have signed on to a gun safety campaign led by New Hyde Park, N.Y.-based Northwell Health. The campaign aims to reduce deaths caused by guns among children by promising to teach community members the importance of asking family and friends whether they have unlocked guns in their homes. 

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