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Michael Dowling

Michael J. Dowling is president and chief executive officer of Northwell Health, New York's largest health care provider and private employer, with 23 hospitals, more than 800 outpatient locations, and[…]

MICHAEL DOWLING: Gun violence is a national crisis. We have about 41,000 deaths last year from gun violence. This is just not about guns. This is a serious public health issue. And we had got to look at it that way.

For example, fewer people die from car accidents yet, we've spent an awful lot of time over the last couple of decades, wondering about how do we make cars safe? We didn't ban cars. We figured out how to make them safe. I remember the discussion with Ralph Nader way back when he said, I want to put seat belts in the cars. Everybody said, you're not. We won't be able to afford a car. It will destroy the car industry. The manufacturers can't do it. It's an invasion of privacy. I don't want to have anybody tell me what the hell to do when I sit in my own car. Yet today, try to buy a car without a seatbelt. We got air bags. We got child supports in the car. We have safety standards. It's the same with guns in my view. You can have a gun. Let's figure it out how to use them safely.

Health is a lot more than the absence of illness. And promoting health is a lot more than dealing with medical care. We have to be much more holistic in our approach. And gun violence prevention's part of it.

The effect of guns is not measured by the 41,000 deaths. That's easy to measure, but what are the downstream effects of this, in many of these communities and to the public at large? When you're running a healthcare organization, we see it each and every day. Millions of people end up in the hospital as a result of gun violence. We treat people who come to us with gun injuries. We treat the people that come to us with trauma. We treat mental health issues. We treat domestic violence victims. Over 80% of Americans, believe that something should be done about gun safety, including gun owners. I think people are afraid to talk about it because people automatically jump to the issue of, oh you want to ban guns. I'm not against guns. I'm against the unnecessary ill effect of guns that do terrible harm to people.

We need rational discussions and a call to action on this issue. Now the lessons here, that if we continue to be persistent about the health effects of gun violence, the trauma, the effect on kids, the effect on communities, the effect on all the people, the physical effects, the social effects, the environmental effects, and we continue messaging that over and over and over again, you will make a difference. It will happen. It is time for healthcare leaders that treat gun violence as a public health issue.

Prevention is important. When people come in to our emergency rooms, what we typically do, and have been doing for years and years and years, we assess the risk factors to their health. So we ask questions about alcoholism. We ask questions about domestic violence. We ask questions about drug abuse. It's all part of the risk assessment of determining what might be of danger, health wise, to that individual or that family. So we should be asking questions about gun violence. Have you heard gunshots in your neighborhood? Has anybody ever put a gun to your head? Is there a gun at home? Are they secure? So you'll ask a whole series of questions like that. And then you will find out that many of these people, especially kids, young teens may be in danger of gun violence, as well as provide services to those people who are affected as a result of gun violence.

Educating the future generations of providers is very, very important, and guns and gun violence is going to be part of this. We now educate physicians, not just in the hospital, but out in the community. Going into people's homes, going into the communities, understanding the communities, understanding what effect that circumstance has on the person's health. Healthcare is local. We're in the communities all the time. We saw evidence of this during COVID. It was a wonderful trust that was built up between healthcare professionals, health care providers of all kinds, and the community. We've got to continue to intensify that relationship, and continue to maintain and build that trust. There are many local entities that are very key to partner with. Community agencies, social service agencies are the local family service league. The local police department. Organizations like that are very, very key. More and more now, many of these communities, the effect of guns is important to them. The safety is important to them. Their security is important to them. We got to work with these people. We can't just do it ourselves.

You can't just stand by and see the results from the impact of guns on the street. So, we decided years ago to set up The Center for Gun Violence Prevention. Then the goal is to educate, broaden people's views, build alliances, build coalitions. We call it a Learning Collaborative. We want all of these people to get together. So we educate and learn from one another. You don't ever accomplish a hell of a lot by sitting on the sidelines and whining. Get into the arena, do your best, and make an impact.