Written by David L. Callender, MD, president and CEO of Memorial Hermann Health System, and James J. McCarthy, MD, Executive Vice President and Chief Physician Executive

safety lock for gunOne hundred and forty. That’s how many children 18 and under have been treated for gunshot wounds at Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital in the last 12 months — a nearly 75 percent increase from just three years ago. With so many unspeakable tragedies taking place across our country in recent weeks, we can all agree that Americans shouldn’t have to worry about being shot at their grocery store, church, school, doctor’s office, or anywhere else. We mourn the loss of life, pray, and promise “never again,” but we get stuck on the how.

You’ve heard it said already, but it bears repeating: Gun violence is not a political issue. It’s a national public health emergency. And it’s time we started treating it like one.

A recent New England Journal of Medicine article identified that since 2017, firearm-related injuries have become the leading cause of death among children and adolescents in the United States. The trend holds true at Memorial Hermann — home to one of the busiest Level I trauma centers in the country and one of only two Level I pediatric trauma centers in the city — where gunshot wounds are now the leading cause of death in those under the age of 20. In Texas, the inflection point is 15 years. This means, in Texas, 15-year-olds are more likely to die from being shot than from any other cause.

At Memorial Hermann, we are deeply invested in our mission to improve the health of Greater Houston. To accomplish this, we must be willing to confront this unchecked epidemic that is currently plaguing our future generations. Gun violence is a complex issue that will require a multi-pronged approach with multiple partners collaborating to address it. As the region’s largest health system, we commit to being part of the solution and have identified two areas we can start tackling immediately.

For one, we will further expand access to mental health care. Today, Memorial Hermann offers these resources to Greater Houston through free-standing mental health crisis clinics and our health centers for schools, but we know we can do more.

Gun violence is not a political issue. It’s a national public health emergency. And it’s time we started treating it like one.

That’s why we’re pledging to further increase access to mental health care in the communities we serve, with a special focus on children. By seeking out innovative new partnerships over the next several months, we will help bring additional mental health resources to our young people through their schools — care that can be accessed virtually, as needed, at their convenience, and at no cost to them. In addition, we will be opening another school-based health center in Humble ISD later this year, and we are strengthening the mental health programs at our existing centers by adding additional licensed clinical social worker positions.

Secondly, we know we must do more from a public safety perspective to reduce the risk of injury as it relates to firearms. Gun safety is everyone’s responsibility. Too often, children encounter guns because their family members are not storing them safely in the house, making deadly weapons easily accessible to small hands. Safe storage is key.

In a Chronicle op-ed published just after the 2018 Santa Fe High School shooting, we called on the country to listen to the medical professionals’ case for change: to address the growing threat that gun violence was posing to public health.

Four years later, we are now taking more specific action. Dr. Sandra McKay, an affiliated physician with Memorial Hermann, is one of the experts leading gun violence research in the Houston area. She recently told the Chronicle that one of the things health care providers could be doing to help is handing out free gun locks to the community.

We agree, which is why Memorial Hermann will be distributing firearm safety kits to individuals and families across Greater Houston. Each kit will include a gun-locking device and instructions for safe gun handling and responsible storage. Within the next several months, our goal is to make thousands of these kits convenient to pick up at locations across the city and available free of charge, no questions asked.

We invite others to join us in these efforts, and we applaud those who are already taking similar steps to do what they can to help. By taking action today, we will give our community — and specifically our children — a safer, and healthier, tomorrow.

Final Thoughts

Memorial Hermann is taking specific action to prevent gun violence, starting with handing out free gun locks to the community. We’ve made thousands of gun safety kits convenient to pick up at locations across Houston, free of charge, no questions asked. Gun safety is everyone’s responsibility, and we invite others to join us in these efforts.

About the Authors

David Callender 2019David L. Callender, MD, is president and CEO of Memorial Hermann, where he has guided the health system to focus on creating healthier communities, now and for generations to come.

Dr. James McCarthy headshotJames J. McCarthy, MD, is the executive vice president and chief physician executive of Memorial Hermann, and a board-certified emergency medicine physician.

This article was originally published in the Houston Chronicle in June 2022.

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