New Orleans’ gun violence comes with a heavy price for the University Medical Center, according to a new study.
A study published this month in The American Journal of Preventive Medicine found that the Academic and Research Hospital on Canal Street lost nearly $20 million treating gun injuries from 2016 to 2019. But this number only “scratches the surface,” said study author and orthopedic surgeon Dr. Chris Marrero.
“Some of them were in and out of the emergency room the same day and some of them stayed for more than a year,” Marrero said. “But at the end of the day, those costs are very small compared to the total costs, which include much more than just the initial hospital visit to care for these patients.”
Although UMC is a safety-net hospital that is expected to treat a high number of uninsured patients, Marrero points out that the money that goes to treating gunshot wounds—hospital costs that often don’t recover—is very high for other patients. Funds are withdrawn for essential projects.
“The state has to cover those damages, and that comes from taxpayer dollars,” said Marrero, assistant professor of orthopedic surgery at LSU Health New Orleans. “Money that could be spent on improving roads or bridges or schools etc should be used to cover that.”
The $20 million in damages doesn’t even account for the life-long health problems that plague patients injured by gunfire. Although the study only examined the costs of treating initial gunshot wounds, patients often face multiple surgeries and amputations after being shot. They may also require decades of physical and mental therapy.
“Those damages would end up being more than $20 million dollars,” Marrero said. “I’ve seen complete destruction of joints, knees, in patients who have had trouble walking throughout their lives,” Marrero said.
The study looked at hospital billing codes for gunshot wounds and found that nearly $122 million was charged to 2,094 patients over four years. Just $17 million was collected as payment. The estimated hospital cost for those patients was $37.6 million, resulting in a loss of $20 million.
According to a 2021 study published in the West Journal of Emergency Medicine, Louisiana leads the US in non-fatal firearm injuries. Non-fatal shootings have risen this year, according to city data. As of November 17, 227 people have been shot this year who initially survived their shootings, nearly three times as many as in 2019 and 78% more than the previous decade’s average.
But there is little data about what happens to those people as they try to recover.
This is partly because, until recently, federal dollars could not be used to study gun violence. In 1996, Congress passed a law mandating that “no funds provided for the prevention and control of injury at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shall be used to finance or promote gun control.” Can be done” when the National Rifle Association lobbied to kill the CDC. National Center for Injury Prevention and Control.
The stay remained in place until 2020 after Congressional leaders clarified that the rule applied to gun control advocacy and not gun violence research.
But the $25 million distributed that year is a small amount compared to the public health issues the CDC has focused its research money on in the past, such as seatbelt safety, said Julie Fleckman, associate director of the Tulane University Violence Prevention Institute.
“For gun violence research, this is really a fraction of what we need,” said Fleckman, who was not involved in the UMC study. “If you think about the distribution of the amount of money they have, and who actually breaks down, it’s really a drop in the bucket.”
Fleckman studies interventions that aim to reduce the likelihood of gunshot wound survivors being shot again. Part of this is distributing gun lockboxes to hospitals and retail stores to make safe storage a more integrated part of gun keeping.
In her research, she has looked at how getting the shot can have far-reaching effects, making it difficult for patients to make appointments. A patient who had multiple amputations after suffering a gunshot wound stands outside.
Fleckman said, “Since he could not drive, it was difficult to leave the house or get on the bus, and it was also very expensive.”
Marrero said the economic cost of UMC should reflect the negative and far-reaching effects of gun violence. He pointed to the recent shooting of a football player at the University of Virginia in Baton Rouge as an example of the long-term cost to individuals and society.
Marrero said, “The surgeries he had could completely eliminate football as a career option.” “Some of these injuries can make it quite difficult for a person to sustain themselves normally, especially with the weapons that are involved nowadays.”
Staff Writer Jeff Adelson contributed to this report.