Lawmakers are putting more focus on efforts to stem gun violence and ensuing trauma in New Jersey communities with a series of bills they introduced in the legislature earlier this month.
The bills focus on gun violence by engaging patients in the hospital, during their recovery and in the community following a firearm incident, putting attention on mental health and counseling needs of gun violence victims.
“Each day, too many families in New Jersey wake up expecting to hear the sound of gunfire and live with the constant fear of losing a loved one,” Mike McLively, director of the Urban Gun Violence Initiative at Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, said in a statement.
Homicide remains one of the leading causes of death among youth and young adults nationally. While the rate of death by firearm is lower in New Jersey compared to most other states, 485 people died by a firearm in 2016, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Atlantic and Cumberland counties had among the highest rates of death by firearm — including accidental, assault and suicide — in the state in a three-year period (2014-2016).
About 8.3 per 100,000 people died by firearm in Atlantic and 8.2 died in Cumberland, according to data from the state Department of Health.
McLively said gun violence disproportionately affects communities of color, where just five cities in New Jersey account for more than half of total homicides.
“Many hospitals see a ‘revolving door’ of gunshot injuries, as patients who have been shot are at a very high risk of being violently reinjured and committing violent acts themselves,” Assemblyman Lou Greenwald, D-Camden, Burlington, said in a statement.
The package of bills would help hospitals develop violence intervention programs to handle trauma incidents related to gun violence. The programs would provide intensive counseling, case management and social services to patients who are recovering from gunshot wounds or other violent injuries.
Currently, University Hospital in Newark is the only hospital in the state with a fully operating community-based intervention program that has identified and addressed gun violence as a public health crisis, bill sponsors said.
Dr. Marjory Langer, president of the N.J. American College of Emergency Physicians, said emergency physicians have always been on the front lines responding to acts of violence.
Counseling may help victims and patients stay safe in high risk situations, she said in a statement.
The bills would require Medicaid to cover professional violence prevention counseling services and allocate funding to community-based violence intervention programs.
Level 1 and Level 2 trauma centers, including AtlantiCare Regional Medical Center, City Campus, in Atlantic City would have to provide hospital-based or hospital-linked violence intervention programs for firearm or stabbing-related injuries.
“The handful of states already making this investment, including New York, Massachusetts and Connecticut, are seeing impressive results — bringing relief and progress not through a heavy-handed approach, but working directly with individuals that need resources,” McLively said.