By Dennis W. Pullin and Kevin M. O’Dowd
The right to bear arms has existed since we became a nation. So, too, has the risk of violence that extensive gun ownership creates in our society. Unfortunately, recent mass shooting incidents fueled by hatred or mental illness have sparked a great deal of fear and confusion among Americans.
As health care leaders, our concern centers on the treatment of those who are victims of senseless gun violence. And not just those who are shot, but the other victims as well.
Health care facilities attempt to provide refuge from violence and seek to provide healing and hope to all victims of violence.
And yet, sadly, we are not immune to being another venue for violence.
Unstable individuals with guns and other weapons of harm find their way into our buildings and hallways. Earlier this month, a man who blamed his physician for ongoing pain after a recent back surgery shot and killed his surgeon and three other people before fatally shooting himself in a Tulsa, Oklahoma, medical facility. Also this month, a hospital security officer was shot and killed by a prison inmate who was receiving care in a Dayton, Ohio, emergency room.
These incidents are among the latest horrifying tragedies in a wave of deadly gun violence occurring across our country, including two heart-breaking mass shootings in Buffalo and in Uvalde, Texas. We mention these tragedies not to make a political statement, but to raise awareness of the consequences of this violence on health care providers and the public health.
As health care workers, healers and caregivers, we work to fix what is broken and put people back together. We bring solutions. We look to bring light to dark situations. We seek to be beacons of hope.
The escalation of recent shootings, suicides, and other violent behaviors underscores the urgency for a national conversation on what has become a serious public health crisis. We believe health systems have a credible voice and can play a critical role beyond being places to care for the victims of violence physically and emotionally.
People across our country and the communities we serve are hurting and vulnerable. Violence and death, particularly mass shootings, hit adults hard. Now consider what the prevalence of school shootings have done to an entire generation of children who are growing up with the fear of being shot and killed in a place they should feel safe.
It’s easy to allow ourselves to become numb to the frequency of these unconscionable, violent acts. But we owe it to present and future generations not to let that happen. We recognize there are no easy answers to this national problem. After all, we are dealing with abnormal behavior – the decision to seriously harm or kill other people. That this behavior is increasing calls for something to be done to effect positive change.
We all can play a role. Last October, our two health systems sponsored the Camden collection site in a statewide law enforcement gun buyback program. This location collected 249 guns. It was part of the largest single-day gun buyback in New Jersey history, and removed over 2,800 guns statewide. Private organizations companies and individuals must think of additional creative ways beyond criticizing politicians to bring about the change we need.
We encourage organizations and communities to come together, to pool their minds and their resources to address gun violence in society as the urgent public health crisis that it is. We must create meaningful public health campaigns around the safe storage and handling of firearms, and sensible and innovative ways to prevent gun violence in schools, health care settings and public places.
And yes, we need to accelerate efforts around our nation’s mental health crisis. We know from the data and what we are all experiencing that the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated what was already a growing nationwide mental health crisis.
Let us put our anger, our shock and our heartbreak into positive change. With the same unstoppable resolution that we seek to cure cancer or slow heart disease, let us advocate, educate and take meaningful action to end gun violence and all senseless violence that is taking such a tragic toll on our nation and our well-being.
Dennis W. Pullin is president and CEO of Virtua Health and Kevin M. O’Dowd is president and CEO of Cooper University Health Care, both of which serve southern New Jersey.
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Gun violence hits home with health care providers | Opinion – NJ.com
By Dennis W. Pullin and Kevin M. O’Dowd