Northwell Health’s continuing fight against gun violence in America now features a multi-platform public awareness campaign, encouraging hundreds of other healthcare systems throughout the nation to follow suit.
Online advertisements, television commercials and printed messages targeting the rampant deaths of kids and children every day as a result of gun violence began circulating earlier this fall. Dr. Chethan Sathya, director of Northwell’s Center for Gun Violence Prevention, said the campaign was launched to make parents aware of questions that should be asked about safe firearm storage and violence prevention.
“It’s translating what we do as a health system into the public as well,” Sathya said in an interview. “It’s inspired a lot of conversations among parents, which is great and what we want people to focus on. We really want to frame this as a public health and safety issue.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released data earlier this year that showed more than 45,000 firearm-related deaths in the United States in 2020, a new peak. Over 4,300 children ages 1-19 died from gun violence in the United States in 2020, the leading cause of death for children and teens, according to the data.
Sathya underscored the importance for people not to view this campaign or any of Northwell’s efforts to combat gun violence as an attack on the Second Amendment. Gun violence in America, he said, has become a safety issue rather than a political one, despite some individuals still claiming the health-care system is pushing for the repeal of firearms.
“The majority of gun owners in this country are for firearm safety, responsible gun ownership and safe storage,” Sathya said. “But there are millions of Americans who are first-time gun owners and just don’t know about the dangers of having a gun in the household.”
Sathya said having a firearm in the house increases the risk of accidental injury, suicide and homicide, so providing educational resources for gun owners is an initiative Sathya lauded.
Northwell currently screens its patients for firearm injury risk, asks questions related to firearm safety and, if needed, offers a variety of counseling and violence prevention resources. As a pediatric trauma surgeon in Chicago, Sathya said, seeing a 6-month-old child with a bullet wound led him on his advocacy journey to address gun violence in America.
“Seeing what the parents go through and the fact that this could be your own child… how could you not prioritize this,” Sathya said. “It was definitely a transformative experience for me and one of the big reasons why I am so passionate about this.”
In 2020, Sathya was awarded $1.4 million from the National Institutes of Health to develop and implement a universal screening protocol among those at risk for firearm injury as part of Northwell’s ‘We Ask Everyone. Firearm Safety is a Health Issue” research study. The protocol tracks patients’ responses to questions about firearm safety and uploads them to their electronic health records.
Sathya mentioned that other health-care systems have a surplus of funding on the state and federal level that can be utilized in efforts to combat gun violence and said more hospitals and organizations are taking the steps to address the issue.
“This is the leading cause of death in kids. It’s going to get worse and worse and continue to be the leading cause of death unless we collectively prioritize this,” he said.