Why one hospital will treat gun violence like it treats alcoholism

Program expected to launch later this year

A Seattle hospital plans to use strategies developed for alcohol and substance misuse interventions to help reduce crime and gun violence.

Harborview Medical Center's new program is based on a 2014 study that found patients admitted with gunshot wounds are significantly more likely to readmitted with another gun injury, commit a crime, or be victims of violence.

The hospital worked with Kevin Haggerty, a professor of social work at the University of Washington, and other academics to design a program aimed at breaking the cycle of violence. Ultimately, Harborview settled on an approach modeled after its existing substance misuse intervention programs—which at least one study deemed effective at curbing destructive behavior.

Doctors back Obama's plan for gun safety, mental health

Under the new program, when a patient "is admitted to Harborview with a gunshot, their treatment won't stop when the bullet is removed and the wound stitched," Alex Yablon writes at The Trace.

Instead, a social worker will meet all patients with gun-related injuries and work through strategies to avoid high-risk situations. Then, over 12 sessions, the social worker will meet with the patient and his or her family to understand the role guns play in their lives. At the end of the program, patients will identify goals in areas like anger management and conflict resolution.

Supporters argue the program may save money in the long run by reducing medical and legal costs.

An untested model

Haggerty says that the program takes an "individual case management" approach to reducing gun violence. The theory, he explains, is to not just focus on a person's medical issues but "on behavioral and social issues that could put them at risk for reinjury."

Should physicians join the debate over gun control?

However, Haggerty says the program's approach is unproven. "It's important to note that we want to test this," he says. "We're not assuming that just because [substance-misuse treatment programs] are strong models that they'll be effective in this case."

The program is expected to launch at Harborview later this year (Budryk, FierceHealthcare, 8/14; Yablon, The Trace, 8/13).


Next in the Daily Briefing

Around the nation: Hospital will start fingerprinting new patients—for their protection

Read now