Doctor shares how gun violence is impacting Alabama hospitals

Gun violence continues to plague communities across the country – including right here in...
Gun violence continues to plague communities across the country – including right here in Alabama.(Source: WSFA 12 News)
Published: Oct. 13, 2022 at 6:38 PM EDT
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MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WSFA) - Gun violence is not only impacting victims and their families – it’s having an effect on Alabama’s healthcare system.

Dr. Don Williamson, president of the Alabama Hospital Association, said the uptick in patients they are seeing is affecting staffing shortages, finances and in some cases – the well-being of hospital employees.

“We are clearly seeing an upward trend in the number of people who come in with gun violence associated injuries,” said Dr. Williamson. “It has a very substantial affect through almost every segment of our hospital system.”

Williamson said a large percentage of patients they treat for gun-related injuries are uninsured, which creates a financial challenge – and 90% of rural hospitals are already operating in the red.

“Some of those individuals will be able to pay some portion of their bill maybe some will pay all of their bill, but a substantial portion of that’s going to be uncompensated care,” he added.

Dealing with gun violence is also pushing staff to the brink. The stress and mental health issues associated is forcing many to leave an already dwindling system.

“Staffing remains the most significant challenge that we are facing,” Williamson said.

Another concern for staff is safety, as some altercations continue at the hospital.

“We’ve had situations where shots are exchanged in our parking lots,” Williamson said. “None of us should expect to be the subject of violent encounters in the workplace and if you’ve got a nurse who’s working the ED (Emergency Department) and he or she is having to deal with victims of gun violence with the fear that they may be subject to more violence from somebody coming in to continue that ongoing violent interaction that creates stress and people will look for safer environments in which to work.”

Gun violence also pushes staff to be re-directed from other forms of care to treat those who have been shot.

“Suddenly having three or four gun violence-associated injuries come in, all of which may be in severe stress, limits what you can do for those other patients who also need your time and attention,” Williamson said.

Lastly, he said firearm injuries are associated with a large need for blood – which could impact other planned surgeries. The greatest tragedy of all though, Williamson said, is losing lives for reasons that could have been avoided.

According to a report released by the U.S. Congress Joint Economic Committee, gun violence costs the U.S. more than $1 billion a year in hospital bills.

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