Talk to address hospitals’ role in preventing gun violence

Published March 30, 2023

Trauma surgeons cannot help but understand on a fundamental level the extent of physical damage that a gunshot inflicts on the human body. But they are also uniquely positioned to understand the widespread psychological and social damage that wound inflicts on the individual’s loved ones and community.

Addressing those issues is a process that can start inside the hospital, according to James K. Lukan, clinical associate professor of surgery in the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences and physician liaison to the hospital-based violence intervention program at Erie County Medical Center.

He will speak on “The Role of Hospitals in Preventing Gun Violence” as part of the New York State Department of Health Commissioner’s Medical Grand Rounds. The online talk will take place from noon to 2 p.m. March 31. Register here.

Community organizations in Buffalo, such as Buffalo SNUG (Should Never Use Guns) and Buffalo Rising Against Violence (BRAVE) at ECMC, have long been involved in programs that seek to prevent gun violence, but Lukan says they have traditionally operated outside the walls of the hospital. More recently, he has worked with Paula Kovanic-Spiro, director of BRAVE, and hospital leadership to allow those organizations inside the hospital so they can begin working immediately to prevent future violence. 

“We know that a significant number of these victims will come back with another gunshot wound within a year,” Lukan explains. “After a gunshot, a pattern of retribution occurs. If someone gets shot, then they find out who did it and there’s retaliation with more violence. SNUG and BRAVE get involved in the immediate aftermath. They try and calm the environment, they teach conflict resolution, all aimed at trying to avoid that secondary process. Further, they help with navigation of the hospital system and creation of positive outcomes from what would otherwise be a very negative event.

“These people are incredible,” he adds. “They walk into situations when tensions are at their highest. They connect victims with the services they need so they don’t come back as a victim again, or end up as a perpetrator.”

Lukan will also discuss how he is working with these groups and others to extend the reach of services that not only address gun violence, but try to prevent it before it happens by reaching out to children and youths at risk. Mentoring programs established at the Jacobs School, and at UB in partnership with the New York State Mentoring Program, are one example, he notes.

Groups like SNUG and BRAVE are a key part of addressing gun violence, he adds. “We call them credible messengers because they were once themselves victims of these cycles of violence, but found their way out, now returning to help others in the same situation.”

Lukan hopes the talk will help encourage other providers and hospitals to participate in these efforts.