AMA Tackles Public Violence As The World Continues to #PrayForOrlando

AMA Gun Violence Meeting

This weekend’s tragic Orlando nightclub shooting, which killed 50 people and left many more wounded, has sparked a passionate nationwide conversation about how to prevent future violent crimes, including an impromptu doctors meeting in Chicago. The topic: urging the American Medical Association (AMA) to study health outcomes of violent encounters between police and civilians.

Doctors at the meeting sought solutions for violence in the nation’s hospitals. AMA delegates debated two proposals for more than 45 minutes:

  • One proposal asked the AMA to fund a study of the health effects of verbal or physical violence between police and unarmed civilians, especially nonwhite civilians
  • The other proposal sought to restrict guns and Tasers from hospitals, especially from the emergency department and psychiatric unit.

The debate came during testimony before a reference committee charged with review of public health issues. A report will be presented by the committee to the AMA House of Delegates and the recommendations in that report will become AMA policy – if approved by the full house.

“Family physicians are on the front lines in our communities and we see this mistrust and animosity every day … every day we see people in our practices who are afraid they will be attacked.” said Joanna T. Bisgrove, MD, of Fitchburg, Wis.


In loving memory of every life lost in our nation’s recent tragedy, and to their families and friends. #PrayForOrlando

Among attending doctors urging the need for the study of current tensions between law enforcement and unarmed civilians, American Academy of Family Physicians delegate Joanna T. Bisgrove, MD, had more to add.

“You need look no further than our host city [Chicago] where the mayor … has not been able to find a way [to contain violence] to know that the effects of this can really be life changing for all,” Bisgrove added.

Urging the AMA reference committee to endorse the need for a study were more than a dozen delegates supporting various states and specialty societies, but one unnamed physician opposed the idea.

“The AMA was regularly criticized for failing to achieve goals such as a reducing red tape for practicing physicians — goals clearly within the AMA wheelhouse — so how can we study something at which we have no expertise … I think it is very presumptive to propose this. I speak only for myself” Anonymous attending physician.

American Academy of Pediatricians delegate Melissa J. Garretson, MD, of Fort Worth, Texas, countered that argument:

“As a pediatric emergency physician, I say this is a public health issue. To say we are not experts in injuries is baseless … this is the social determinant of health.” countered Melissa J. Garretson, MD, of Fort Worth, Texas.

Former AMA president Lonnie Bristow, MD, also agreed. He was asked if there was a public health need for such a study.

“Absolutely … but it must be studied both ways: the effect on police and civilians.” stated Lonnie Bristow, MD.

Also heard by the same committee was testimony regarding a resolution proposed by the minority affairs section urging the AMA to ban guns and tasers from hospitals.

“Advocate that hospitals and other health care delivery settings restrict guns and Tasers on their premises, particularly in emergency departments and psychiatric units where patients suffering from mental illness are present.” stated Christian Alexander Pean, MD, author of the resolution and speaker for the minority affairs section.

Christian Alexander Pean, MD, an orthopedic surgery resident in New York City, presented a case involving his mentally ill brother, who was tased and shot after he was admitted and became disoriented.

“The nurse called for security … the officers entered room, Tased him, and shot him in the chest, inside his hospital room” even though he was naked and had no weapon on him, Pean said. “They handcuffed him as he was unconscious and threw a drape over his body … a code was called.” added Christian Alexander Pean, MD.

The subject of an article in the New York Times, Pean’s brother survived and now goes on speaking tours to raise awareness of the issue.

“We don’t want for this resolution to limit or hinder the ability of personnel to respond to these kinds of incidents, but we have to keep in mind what policies in place currently do when it comes to limiting access to the most vulnerable patients — patients like my brother,” said Pean.

Most delegates seemed to agree with the resolution, and some spoke in favor of more enhanced security.

Melissa Garretson, MD, an American Academy of Pediatrics delegate from Fort Worth, Texas, described a potentially horrific incident in which a father who was upset with the way his 4-day-old baby was being treated by the hospital, said he would go to his car to get his gun to take care of “this problem”.

“I live in Texas — you know he had a gun in his car. Security did not allow him back onto the premises. Change the word ‘restrict’ to ‘limit.’ Tell me I can’t have anything to protect our staff and ourselves, and I’m in trouble,” added Garretson.

The conversation held by delegates of the AMA focused on preparative measures is by all means a progressive approach to planning, prevention, and safety for all amidst the wake of yet another senseless tragic event that left 50 dead and more injured.

In loving memory of every life lost in our nation’s recent tragedy, and to their families and friends. #PrayForOrlando

Joseph Bryant
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