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Atrium Health system sees firsthand the rise in gun violence

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Atrium Health
Atrium Health has seen a steady rise in gunshot injuries, as well as an increase in injuries among children and teens.

The number of gunshot victims in Atrium Health’s emergency rooms is staggering — and rising. The health system released a report that shows a 54% increase in five years.

In 2021, the health system treated 703 patients with injuries from gun violence, compared to 457 patients in 2017 — a 54% increase over five years.

Dr. David Jacobs, the medical director of Atrium Health’s hospital-based violence intervention program, said the health system is particularly concerned by the young ages of these patients.

"Patients in their early teens, 12, 13, 14-year-olds that are now victims of interpersonal violence," Jacobs told reporters. "Still the most common ages are 15 or 16 up to 25, 26, 27. But this downward shift, this shift to earlier age involvement in violence is something that's very worrisome and we're keeping our eye on."

The violence intervention program focuses on patients between the ages of 15 and 24 with violence-related injuries. A violence intervention specialist interviews the patient to find out more information on living arrangements, employment status, neighborhood characteristics and propensity to engage in high-risk behaviors, such as drug and alcohol use. They then help the patient create short and or long-term goals to get access to resources.

Atrium Health
The violence intervention program is designed to reduce the chances that patients injured by gun violence will be readmitted to the hospital with violence-related injuries in the future.

Atrium Health launched the violence intervention program in January 2022 and enrolled 39 patients during the first six months of the program. All but one were male and 17 were under the age of 18. Of those enrolled, 69% were Black, 10% were Hispanic or Latino and 18% were white. The majority of patients were admitted with firearm injuries.

This past July, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department reported that firearm assaults have risen in the city by 25% over five years. In the first six months of 2022 alone, an estimated 118 juveniles in the city were suspects in gun crimes, while 482 children were victims.

Dr. Jacobs says the Charlotte area is following a national trend of a spike in violence during the pandemic. He added gun violence usually results from a simple disagreement.

"In the setting of younger folks who haven't had the amount of time to learn how to solve conflict in nonviolent ways you combine that with easy access to weapons, and this is what you see," Jacobs said.

The report also details nationwide trends. Each year, there are an estimated 40 times as many firearm injuries as there are deaths and 70,000 emergency room visits, according to data compiled by the RAND Corporation. In North Carolina, the rate of firearm injury hospitalizations consistently exceeds the national average.


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Sarah Delia covers criminal justice and the arts for WFAE. Sarah joined the WFAE news team in 2014. An Edward R. Murrow Award-winning journalist, Sarah has lived and told stories from Maine, New York, Indiana, Alabama, Virginia and North Carolina. Sarah received her B.A. in English and Art history from James Madison University, where she began her broadcast career at college radio station WXJM. Sarah has interned and worked at NPR in Washington DC, interned and freelanced for WNYC, and attended the Salt Institute for Radio Documentary Studies.