How Michael Dowling gets leaders to take the politics out of gun violence

So far there have been more mass shootings than days in 2023. It is a reality that continues to drive Northwell Health CEO Michael Dowling to lead the charge in healthcare's fight to prevent gun violence.

"There have been around 70 mass shootings this year. It's a public health issue," Mr. Dowling told Becker's. "I'm hoping this time next year if we look at the first two months [of 2024] that we'll have much less than 70.  I think we'll be hopefully seeing actions by some state legislators around the country as a result of all of this advocacy, too." 

Northwell, based in New Hyde Park, N.Y., has led several initiatives to prevent gun violence, recruiting leaders from across the health sector to join its efforts.

The health system's fourth annual Gun Violence Prevention Forum kicks off Feb. 28 in New York City and will feature government officials, business leaders and healthcare executives from around the country. This year's initiatives are action-focused now that mobilization has taken place — aligning with a notable shift in the healthcare sector's approach to the problem, Mr. Dowling said.

"When I personally got involved in a big way four or five years ago, there was extensive hesitancy from healthcare leaders to get engaged," he said. "Now I have about 50 CEOs that have agreed to be involved as part of a council focusing on gun violence as a public health issue and dedicated to enhancing programs on safety and prevention."

Mr. Dowling said healthcare leaders' initial hesitancy was rooted in wanting to steer clear from politics. However, working alongside other healthcare leaders to address gun violence as a public health issue without opinions on the Second Amendment has led to more leaders joining Northwell's initiatives. 

"We may have our individual personal opinions about it, but that doesn't get you any traction at the moment," he said. "The traction emanates from treating it as a public health issue; you build more connection when you focus on that. That is what has made a difference and led to unbelievably consistent advocacy by many people."

Mr. Dowling said the Gun Violence Prevention Forum will get key players from different sectors in a room together and pave the way for action. His key focus this year: advocacy and a drive to "keep the visibility of the issue front and center and encourage others who may be on the sidelines to get into the arena and involved in this issue."

The newly formed CEO Council, made up of 50 healthcare leaders, is another key initiative for Northwell's gun violence prevention efforts. Mr. Dowling said the council is in the early stages, but he added that around 20 of the 50 leaders will be in attendance at the Feb. 28 forum and plan to set goals and learn from each other. 

"We'll be talking about how best to be educating our staff about gun violence and how to best get the message out, so it has more traction in our communities," Mr. Dowling said. "But this is a long-term game. There's momentum in terms of positive attitude toward making a change and that momentum eventually will make a difference, but it won't happen in one year."

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