Nearly 40,000 firearm deaths occur in the United States each year. To address this epidemic, Massachusetts General Hospital announced on June 10 the launch of the Mass General Center for Gun Violence Prevention.
Founded by pediatric surgeon Peter Masiakos, director of the pediatric trauma service at Mass General and associate professor of surgery at Harvard Medical School, and Chana Sacks, an HMS instructor in medicine at Mass General, the center is dedicated to advancing the health and safety of children and adults through injury and gun violence prevention research, clinical care, education and community engagement.
“As health care providers, we are charged with more than caring for the sick and injured,” said Masiakos. “For as long as our profession has existed, our patients have depended on doctors to be sentinels against hidden societal dangers and advocates for policies that protect us against such dangers.
On the front lines of patient care, we are routinely exposed to the faces affected by modern ills such as unemployment, food insecurity, substance use, racism and gun violence. We must stand front and center to better understand the determinants of gun violence and to develop the tools to impact this epidemic that is indiscriminate of race, age, creed, gender and sexual identity.”
The center will continue the efforts of a coalition formed by Mass General clinicians in 2015 to address firearm-related violence through a public health approach, featuring the development of clinical guidance and resources to inform conversations with patients and the public.
The group has collaborated with a number of organizations and policymakers—including the Massachusetts General Hospital Physicians Organization, the Massachusetts Attorney General’s office, the office of Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, the Boston Police Department and Mass General’s Consortium for Affordable Medical Technologies—on a variety of initiatives, such as providing free gunlocks to area residents, sponsoring gun buyback programs and co-hosting a hack-a-thon to develop innovative solutions to address the problem.
The group also joined community events including the March for Our Lives and the Mother’s Day Walk for Peace.
For Sacks, the issue of gun violence is deeply personal, as her cousin’s 7-year-old son Daniel was killed in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in 2012. Sacks authored “In Memory of Daniel—Reviving Research to Prevent Gun Violence,” a 2013 New England Journal of Medicine Perspective in which she recounts her experience and calls for a research-fueled, data-driven approach to the problem.
“We as a medical community have a role to play in ending this public health crisis,” Sacks said. “We hope to arm clinicians with tools to discuss firearm safety and violence prevention with patients, to conduct research to better understand opportunities for intervention and to be advocates for our patients and communities.”
To provide seed funding for the center, Mass General has committed $1.2 million over the next three years, with plans to raise additional funding through philanthropy. In addition, HMS has pledged $200,000 in support over a two-year period.
“As an American, a parent, an educator and a doctor, I am heartbroken and outraged at the needless loss of life from gun violence in our communities,” said George Q. Daley, dean of HMS, who continues to speak out about the need to reduce injury and death from firearms . “We need to do more to prevent the destruction that gun violence inflicts on our bodies and our society. We enthusiastically support the work that Mass General is doing to teach, to heal and to prevent gun violence.”
The center's first initiative involves creating and conducting simulation trainings for clinicians, a program that was launched earlier this month.
“Gun violence clearly has become a health epidemic,” said Peter L. Slavin, Mass General president. “As an organization committed to healing, injury prevention and promoting good health, the MGH bears a responsibility to educate our staff and patients and pursue research that will hopefully reduce the suffering caused by gun violence.”