Boston doctors seek different approach to gun violence

New center will bring public health approach to problem

DOCTORS AT MASSACHUSETTS GENERAL HOSPITAL launched the new Center for Gun Violence Prevention on Monday, with a slew of Massachusetts elected officials on hand to support the effort.

Clinicians will use the center, funded with $1.2 million from MGH and $200,000 from Harvard Medical School, to address the gun violence problem through a public health lens.

Attorney General Maura Healey; Mark Barden, co-founder of Sandy Hook Promise; Boston Mayor Marty Walsh; House Speaker Robert DeLeo; and Suffolk County District Attorney Rachael Rollins were among the speakers at the event.

Founded by pediatric surgeon Dr. Peter Masiakos, director of the Pediatric Trauma Service at Mass General Hospital for Children, and internist Dr. Chana Sacks, the center is dedicated to advancing the health and safety of children and adults through research, clinical care, education and community engagement. For Sacks the effort is even more personal, as her cousin’s 7-year-old son Daniel was one of the children killed in the 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut. Clementina Chéry, founder of the Louis D. Brown Peace Institute, named after her 15-year-old son, who shot and killed 25 years ago in Dorchester, also spoke at the event.

Doctors and nurses will be taught through the center how to discuss firearm safety with patients. The first gun violence simulation training for clinicians took place last week.

Sacks said the center will also distribute free gun locks to patients “the same way we hand out free condoms or bike helmets.” The methods deployed by the center will be an effort to work around the 1996 Dickey Amendment, a federal provision that bars Centers for Disease Control and Prevention funds from being used for injury prevention or promotion of gun control.

“With nearly 40,000 people a year dying, we have a responsibility as people in the health care system to tackle that issue the way we would any issue that’s affecting our patients,” Sacks said. “So it’s not that we’re choosing this issue, it’s choosing us.”

There have been 17 homicides so far this year in Boston, with 14 of those from gun violence. DeLeo said legislation related to firearms and supporting behavioral health among young people will be “a part of our discussion” on Beacon Hill.

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Sarah Betancourt

Reporter, CommonWealth magazine

About Sarah Betancourt

Sarah Betancourt is a bilingual journalist reporting across New England. Prior to joining Commonwealth, Sarah was a reporter for The Associated Press in Boston, and a correspondent with The Boston Globe and The Guardian. She has written about immigration, social justice, and health policy for outlets like NBC, The Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism, and the New York Law Journal. Sarah has reported stories such as a national look at teacher shortages, how databases are used by police departments to procure information on immigrants, and uncovered the spread of an infectious disease in children at a family detention center. She has covered the State House, local and national politics, crime and general assignment.

Sarah received a 2018 Investigative Reporters and Editors Award for her role in the ProPublica/NPR story, “They Got Hurt at Work and Then They Got Deported,” which explored how Florida employers and insurance companies were getting out of paying workers compensation benefits by using a state law to ensure injured undocumented workers were arrested or deported. Sarah attended Emerson College for a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Communication, and Columbia University for a fellowship and Master’s degree with the Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism.

About Sarah Betancourt

Sarah Betancourt is a bilingual journalist reporting across New England. Prior to joining Commonwealth, Sarah was a reporter for The Associated Press in Boston, and a correspondent with The Boston Globe and The Guardian. She has written about immigration, social justice, and health policy for outlets like NBC, The Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism, and the New York Law Journal. Sarah has reported stories such as a national look at teacher shortages, how databases are used by police departments to procure information on immigrants, and uncovered the spread of an infectious disease in children at a family detention center. She has covered the State House, local and national politics, crime and general assignment.

Sarah received a 2018 Investigative Reporters and Editors Award for her role in the ProPublica/NPR story, “They Got Hurt at Work and Then They Got Deported,” which explored how Florida employers and insurance companies were getting out of paying workers compensation benefits by using a state law to ensure injured undocumented workers were arrested or deported. Sarah attended Emerson College for a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Communication, and Columbia University for a fellowship and Master’s degree with the Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism.

DeLeo said Reps. Chynah Tyler, Liz Miranda, Andy Vargas and Dan Cullinane “are already hard at work on this issue,” but told State House News Service he didn’t have any specific bill in mind at this point.

State public health commissioner Dr. Monica Bharel said her department has started “explicitly addressing gun violence through a public health and racial equity lens.” Bharel said black youths in Massachusetts are 32 times more likely to be hospitalized for a firearm injury than their white counterparts.