DePaul and Rush University shed light on nonfatal gun violence

With so much attention paid to those who have died from shootings, whether it is mass shootings like last week’s in Aurora, Illinois or the day-to-day violence in Chicago, it can be easy to forget about the victims who survive. That’s one of the issues the Center for Community Health Equity, an organization co-founded by DePaul and Rush universities in 2015, works to address.

A monthly gathering co-hosted by DePaul and Rush University last week sought to ensure these individuals are remembered.

“The center is based on the idea that we can change the world with good data,” said DePaul sociology and public health professor Fernando De Maio, who is also one of the directors of the center. “We wanted to see what could happen if we linked together sociologists and medical doctors, anthropologists, geographers and others from DePaul with health care professionals at Rush.”

One result of this mission is a series of monthly meetings that each addresses a different community health topic that goes beyond just addressing medicine. This month, the center met to hear the findings of two researchers at Mount Sinai Hospital on Chicago’s West Side and the Sinai Urban Health Institute, which are part of the same health network in the city.

Jackie Jacobs, a program manager in evaluation at Mount Sinai, and Myles Castro, a research specialist at Sinai Urban Health Institute, presented the findings of a study they recently conducted and emphasized the importance of getting involved in the community to truly address gun violence.

They observed 3,962 patients who had been treated for gun-related injuries and survived, choosing to focus on this particular population because non-fatal injuries are actually twice as common but don’t typically receive as much attention among the public, they said.

Illegally obtained guns- and they number in the millions- are a virus. They move from person to person. They are unaccounted for and untraceable.

— Alec Brownlow, Sustainable Urban Development professor

The study’s findings showed that individuals between the ages of 16 and 24 are more likely to receive a shooting-related injury than any other age group, that the likelihood of these kinds of injuries decreases with age and that threats of violence are being increasingly commonplace on social media versus other forms of communication.

In addition, Mount Sinai’s 1.8 percent mortality rate among gun violence patients is lower than the national average, which is significant because of both Chicago’s crime rate and the hospital’s safety net status.

“While Chicago has a higher rate of gun violence than the national average, at Mount Sinai the mortality rate is much lower than the national average,” Jacobs said.

Sinai serves a particularly important role on the West Side of Chicago, where many patients cannot afford to get treatment elsewhere.

“I think people at Sinai know it’s a safety net hospital,” Castro said.

A safety net hospital is one that will provide care for patients regardless of their insurance status or ability to pay, according to the Illinois Health and Hospital Association.

Mount Sinai’s network, which also includes a rehabilitation hospital and the Sinai Urban Health Institute, among other clinics and locations, also focuses on community engagement in its goal to help reduce gun violence.

The hospital currently has one social worker, Jacobs said, as well as a peer mentor program and an outpatient caseworker. These individuals follow up with patients once they’re ready to leave the hospital and provide services like setting up transportation for the shooting survivors.

Unfortunately, not having more social workers means that many patients leave the hospital before they can get screened for additional services, and as of right now there isn’t enough funding to hire more.

In addition, patients’ specific insurance policies, if they have insurance at all, determine what services they’re able to afford and receive.

“There needs to be policy changes, especially with insurance,” Castro said of the health insurance system as a whole.

Similar to Mount Sinai’s approach to addressing shooting survivors’ challenges beyond just their immediate medical care, the root causes of gun violence need to be addressed, DePaul professors who aren’t part of the Center for Community Health Equity told the DePaulia.

Alec Brownlow, a professor of sustainable urban development, said most gun violence involves domestic and gang disputes, and the prevalence of gun ownership and the ease of acquiring guns causes these arguments to get violent.

“Illegally obtained guns – and they number in the millions – are a virus,” he said. “They move from person to person. They are unaccounted for and untraceable, and thus the method of choice for anyone with deadly intentions.”

Brownlow says the police alone won’t be able to solve the issue of gun violence.

“It has to involve communities, families, churches and other social institutions whose presence and trust in these communities is likely greater and more insightful than the police alone can offer,” Brownlow said.

These disputes that can lead to gun violence also have deeper issues that may go beyond criminal justice issues.

“Those neighborhoods with more crime are often areas where economic and educational opportunities are greatly restricted,” said Noam Ostrander, a professor of social work at DePaul. “Chicago’s urban development has intentionally isolated those communities, which contributes to their history of crime and gun violence.”

Ostrander also spoke to the importance of Chicago politicians getting at these structural issues that are causing gun violence if the city is to effectively combat this issue.

“With the upcoming mayoral and aldermanic elections, they must commit to actions that will address the structural violence in Chicago,” he said. “If they won’t commit to action, don’t vote for them.”

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