“We are all here today because gun violence has threatened the health and well-being of our communities,” said Massachusetts House Speaker Robert DeLeo. “It is a public health epidemic, and this center will surely become a leader of research and prevention nationwide.”

On June 10, DeLeo joined Peter L. Slavin, MD, MGH president, and other leaders from the hospital and city of Boston to launch the MGH Center for Gun Violence Prevention, which seeks to address the public health crisis that causes nearly 40,000 firearm-related deaths each year.

Founded by pediatric surgeon Peter Masiakos, MD, director of thePediatric Trauma Service at MassGeneral Hospital for Children, and Chana Sacks, MD, an internist and researcher in the Division of General Internal Medicine, the center is dedicated to advancing the health and safety of children and adults through injury and gun violence prevention research, clinical care, education and community engagement.

“The challenge we face in trying to solve gun violence in America is immense,” said Sacks. Although mass shootings are widely covered in the media, they account for only 1 percent of firearm deaths each year, she said. Unintentional injuries account for 2 percent of annual firearm deaths, homicides make up one-third of these deaths, and the majority of firearm deaths are the result of suicide. “Each type of violence has different root causes, and each requires a different approach. We need to have culturally competent conversations and use these resources to really make a difference.”

The center is supported by $1.2 million of seed funding from the hospital and an additional $200,000 from Harvard Medical School. Its first initiative – introduced this month – involves creating and conducting simulation trainings for clinicians.

“As health care providers, we are charged with more than caring for the sick and injured,” said Masiakos. “Over the years I have cared for many victims of gun violence and have had to tell mothers about the death of their child – the worst part of my job. Doctors, among others, can no longer stand on the sidelines as so many Americans are killed each year. We need to do more.”

The center will continue the efforts of a coalition formed by MGH clinicians in 2015 to address firearm-related violence through a public health approach, featuring the development of clinical guidance and resources to inform conversations with patients and the public. The group has collaborated with several organizations and policymakers, many of whom also spoke at the launch: Clementina Chéry, president & CEO of the Louis D. Brown Peace Institute; Maura Healey, Massachusetts attorney general; Monica Bharel, MD, commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Public Health; and Rachael Rollins, Suffolk County district attorney.

“This new center builds on Mass General’s focus on prevention – as we must be proactive and not reactive to stop the cycles of violence,” said Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh. “One gun death is too many. We won’t stop working until we get to zero, and this center will provide a big step in getting there.”

Read more articles from the 06/14/19 Hotline issue.