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Gun violence is a public health issue

Daily Hampshire Gazette - 5/17/2018

We are all painfully aware of the horrific acts of gun violence that have become so common in our country.

The mass shooting at a high school in Florida once again led to increased debate and discussion about this important topic. It is time for discussions to lead to action and for the nation to come together to address the complex but critical issues that contribute to these tragedies.

While mass shootings tend to capture the public attention, we should remember that every day in this country, almost 100 people are killed and another 200 are injured by guns. This includes seven children and teens who die as a result of gunshots every day. Changes in policy can change these tragic statistics.

Some would suggest that the issue of gun violence is a “political” one and would question why the president of the local health care system would publicly take a position. Whether it’s how our immigration laws and policies affect access to care for underserved communities, discrimination based on gender identity, or gun violence, public policy issues that impact the health of individuals and the health of our community cannot — and should not — be considered out of scope for health care leaders.

Violence, including specifically gun violence, is a public health issue. I am encouraged that the ban on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s ability to research and report on gun violence has been reversed, but absent funding for that work, the change in policy will matter little. Collecting and studying reliable data and trends is imperative so that we can understand what is happening and how we might take action to prevent gun violence and save lives.

In some states, laws have been passed that would prohibit health care providers from talking to patients about the risks of having guns in homes with children. We should encourage health care providers to have these important conversations with their patients.

And I believe the evidence is clear that increased restrictions on the purchase of firearms has to be part of the solution. In fact, Massachusetts is considered a model for the nation with regard to gun-control laws and it has led to our being among the states with the lowest rates of gun-related deaths.

We cannot forget that some of the perpetrators of these acts of violence are suffering from mental health issues. Ensuring that mental health resources are available and that mental health problems are destigmatized also needs to be part of the solution.

As health care providers, we know we can’t solve complex societal public health issues on our own. Rather, we need to partner with public health agencies, community-based mental health agencies, schools, social service agencies, and law enforcement.

In addition, we who are health care providers and, particularly, leaders of health care organizations do have a role and a responsibility to voice our opinions and our concerns. I encourage others to use their voice to raise questions, seek answers and commit to building healthier and safer communities.

To the young people in our community who are using their voices for change — your leadership and outspokenness are an inspiration.

This is the first in an occasional series by Joanne Marqusee, president and chief executive officer of Cooley Dickinson Health Care since 2014. They will cover a range of public policy issues that have an impact on the health and wellness of our community and are the focus of policy debate.


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