Doctor says gun violence plagues local ERs, seeks solutions to combat public health crisis

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- A chronic illness: That`s how a local trauma surgeon explains the gun violence problem in the country and in Kansas City.

Gun violence and the after-effects are plaguing our communities and emergency rooms.

“These events, they have an impact on you. They change you forever after you've seen them,” said Dr. Robert Winfield, chief of trauma and acute care surgery at the University of Kansas Health System.

The most recent data Winfield has shows that 181 patients were treated for gun violence at his hospital alone in the past year.

“Homicides are occurring every day in urban neighborhoods across the country. Right here in Kansas City, of course, we have a significant problem with gun violence, and it`s important to remember that that`s going on all the time. It`s not just when we have a mass shooting,” Winfield said.

Countyhealthrankings.org shows 842 firearm deaths in Jackson County between 2013 and 2017; 249 in Johnson County, Kansas.

To combat the rising number of firearm injuries and fatalities, doctors at the University of Kansas Health System also research the causes.

They interview their patients to find clues about what triggered the shootings.

“From there, we`re able to bring data back to our community partners in Kansas City and say this is what they`re telling us about why they were shot or why shootings happen in general,” Winfield said.

“People say that job opportunities and education are two of the biggest reasons why we see people who end up being involved in gun violence -- it is because those opportunities are lacking in their communities.”

Winfiled is one of many physicians nationwide who wants to end gun violence -- addressing it as a public health concern.

“Firearm violence in this country happens to be a chronic illness,”  Winfield said.  “When we start to talk about it and approaching it as a public health problem, I think you see people come together rather than just talk about it as having guns or not having guns. It`s a more complex issue than that.”

Winfield said changes need to include mental health programs, access to education and opportunities, firearm safety, firearm storage, and even first aid for gunshot victims.

“We`re trying to reduce death and disability due to firearms and so a big component of what we do is something called stop the bleed. This is a bystander training program we teach people,” he explained.

But what he and other physicians no longer want to do is simply react to gun violence.

“If we sit here in the trauma center, we're just being reactionary. We`re looking at a problem; we`re saying, 'If you happen to be shot, we're here for you,' and not that there`s anything wrong with that, but we need to do more,” he said.

Winfield says he can`t do it alone.

“We need help, we need all interested people to get on board, get behind solutions,” he said.

Winfield helped organize a firearm safety symposium in May. It brought together several speakers and leaders of community organizations. Click here for a summary of the symposium.

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