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New Harborview program aims to reduce gun violence amid alarming increase in shootings

UW Medicine hired a shooting survivor to meet with victims of gun violence and connect them with services once they are discharged.

SEATTLE — Doctors across the country are seeing an alarming trend: An increasing number of patients with serious injuries from shootings.

It’s happening at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle, ground zero for treating these patients, where a new program aims to stop the violence.

“The increase in gun-related injuries that we're seeing at Harborview is palpable, and it's palpable on a daily basis,” said Dr. Deepika Nehra, a Harborview trauma surgeon.

It’s a rare occasion a day goes by when the ER team does not treat someone with a gunshot wound.

“You’ve got to be ready, always ready, and it's always unpredictable,” said Dr. Adeyinka Adedipe, the ER attending physician on a recent Sunday night.

Paramedics had just rushed in two men injured in a shooting in Seattle's Chinatown International District.

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“Devastating injuries for both of them,” Adedipe said of the victims.

Prior to 2020, Harborview treated between 300 to 350 gun-related injuries each year. Last year, they saw that figure rise to 400. So far in 2021, they have seen more than 480 patients wounded in shootings. Harborview said that figure will easily surpass 500 in the next few weeks.

“Gun violence is certainly an epidemic,” said Nehra.

Until recently, doctors would patch up a patients' wounds, send them home to recover and hope they didn't see them again. But there has been a shift in how UW Medicine treats victims of gun violence.

“When an individual comes in with a gun-related injury, we know that this is a moment in time that we consider a teachable moment,” explained Nehra.

Harborview just launched a violence intervention program in partnership with the King County Regional Peacekeepers Collective, a coalition of non-profits committed to reducing firearm injuries and deaths, especially among young people.

“We know that individuals who are injured by gun violence, especially youths, are at really high risk for repeat injury and death due to gun violence,” said Nehra.

UW Medicine hired a shooting survivor to talk with victims of gun violence and help them overcome some of the factors that might have put them in harm's way. Perhaps a patient needs mental health counseling, access to food assistance or some encouragement to get back in school.

Harborview said five patients have entered into the program since it started last month.

“I think what it honestly boils down to is really showing these youths that we care about them, their lives matter, they matter, and that we really want to see them do better,” said Nehra. “We want it to show them that there's hope for the future, and we want to help them get to a better place.”

Harborview’s gun violence prevention program does face some challenges. Doctors said some shooting patients may have been involved in crimes and will not talk with anyone at the hospital or even reveal their names.

It’s often the younger patients, the ones who had a frighteningly close call, who are more willing to discuss their personal lives with someone they trust.

“They talk to a peer who gets it, who's been there, who understands what they're going through and can talk to them and listen to them from a point of sort of really understanding,” said Nehra.