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How the rise in gun violence impacts emergency workers: 'It's not a statistic'

How the rise in gun violence impacts emergency workers: 'It's not a statistic'
Posted at 4:55 PM, Jul 13, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-13 23:47:27-04

RICHMOND, Va. -- Two months after city leaders declared gun violence a public health crisis in Richmond, the chief of trauma at VCU Medical Center said that increase was taking a toll on hospitals and health care workers.

Doctor Michel Aboutanos said the trauma center has had to ramp up the number of teams responding to keep up with the influx of gun and violent crime-related injuries.

On June 2, 2020, Richmond Police Officer Jason Scott became one of the hundreds of patients admitted to the VCU Trauma Center after being shot that same year.

Officer Scott was brought in with a near-fatal gunshot wound to the chest and abdomen.

"This happened around 1:30 in the morning. By 9 a.m. I was going into my third surgery," said Officer Scott.

For Officer Scott, the night was a blur.

"I don't remember feeling anything, just remember waking up in a panic," Officer Scott said.

Multiple teams work to save his life and his left leg due to clotting. He was intubated until Friday and would end up spending more than a month in the hospital.

"Without the trauma team, without the vascular surgeon I had, and orthopedics, literally all three of them working on me at one time. I don't think I would be here at all if it wasn't for VCU," Officer Scott said.

This life-saving work involves battling the clock, requiring teams and resources.

"You have to be 100% prepared," said Doctor Michel Aboutanos, Chief of Trauma at the VCU Medical Center. "Our response within 15 minutes, 15 minutes to an entire multidisciplinary, basically response to this patient, you have the plumber surgeon, the nurse, the physicians, the clinical intensivist, the pharmacist, the whole team that assembles."

He said the way the numbers were projected, VCU Health was predicting more than 500 gun-related admissions to their level one trauma center by the end of the year, a 120% increase from 2018.

He said that increase in violent crime-related admissions began to climb in 2019, with a 64% increase in 2020 from 2018.

"Just when we thought things will be better this year, the numbers are not better. They continue to be on a significant increase," said Aboutanos.

Dr. Aboutanos said with the trajectory of 500 gun-related admissions this year, they've had to restructure what they do and augment resources.

"And that puts a lot of strain on what we're doing," said Aboutanos. "Instead of only having one team respond, now we have multiple teams that are responding. Instead of having one trauma surgeon on call 24/7, we're having two of them now," said Aboutanos.

He added that the increase in gun-related admissions was taking a mental toll on hospital workers as well.

"For us, it's not a statistic. It's a human being," Aboutanos said. "You're taking care of this patient with all your resources or your emotions, and then the next patient comes, then the next one comes, and you have to stop, switch. Be whole again. Be attentive to the next one," he said.

Dr. Aboutanos, who also serves as Director of the VCU Injury and Violence Prevention Program, added that it wasn't enough to just treat the patients

He and city leaders declared gun violence a public health crisis in May and called for state and federal dollars to respond to the emergency.

Dr. Aboutanos called on policymakers to make the Trauma Center Fund as well as funding for prevention and intervention efforts a priority.

"Prevention is a major part of the solution as well," Dr. Aboutanos said.

He said it only takes a few seconds to have lasting impacts.

"I just had clinic today. I'm seeing patients that were shot one or two years ago, I'm still seeing them in my clinic," Dr. Aboutanos said. "It's a huge impact on getting this patient through the impact that has on their families on the society on the community. That's why it's a public health crisis."

More than one year after he was shot, Officer Scott said he was just beginning physical therapy and taking his recovery day by day.

'I'm definitely hopeful that my body recovers the way I want it to," Scott said. "And I'm thankful to be able to get to this opportunity because of VCU and how they took care of me in the beginning... If it wasn't for them handling it how they did, I don't think I would be at this point yet."