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‘It’s a big resource demand’: UAB grapples with gun violence surge

Officers work crime scene in Jefferson County.
Officers work crime scene in Jefferson County.(WBRC)
Published: May. 26, 2022 at 9:50 PM CDT|Updated: May. 27, 2022 at 5:42 PM CDT
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BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WBRC) - Gun violence is a growing problem across the country and here at home. Almost every day we report a tragic shooting in our area and whether the victim survived. The often untold story – how this growing number of victims impacts a local hospital we all depend on for care.

Dr. Daniel Cox is one of the top trauma surgeons at UAB. During our nearly thirty minute interview, a shooting victim was rushed into the ER along with another patient who’d been stabbed.

“We really are in this epidemic right now of gun violence and while it often impacts a fairly small segment of the community, the cost, life and societal resources is huge,” Cox explained.

Not only are there more victims, the injuries are increasingly severe. In only two years, the number of patients who’ve been shot - up nearly 40%. Extend that to eight years, the number of shooting victims treated at UAB is up 100%.

“That’s a big resource constraint on the system,” added Cox. “It impacts the number of operating rooms we need to be running. We’re constantly running between [multiple] rooms a day just for trauma patients. When you look at some that need operations, a high number of them have orthopedic injuries and our orthopedic trauma surgeons are operating. Our sub-specialties like our neurosurgeons or vascular surgeons are operating and plastic surgeons and face specialists - the team that’s needed to take care of a traumatically injured patient.”

Some of the injuries Cox and his team are treating indicate they’ve been shot with high caliber weapons, increasing the amount of care needed and the overall lethality of their injuries.

“I had a patient recently with multiple gunshot wounds and basically hits every cavity,” Cox recounted. “They were hit in the face, in the neck, in the chest, the abdomen and the extremities.”

The demand for high-level care has forced UAB to expand its trauma team to address the increase in cases.

“Any day of the year, 24/7 we have two trauma surgeons that are in the hospital on call to be able to take care of trauma patients and critically injured patients,” stated Cox. “We also increased our nursing staffing, the number of nurse practitioners and [physician assistants] that we have on the trauma service, we’ve dramatically increased over the last three years to be able to help take care of this influx.”

The numbers don’t begin to convey what Cox and his team see every day. Their patients often face lifelong injuries requiring high levels of care.

“Best case, they have a full, functional recovery from the injuries but there’s still psychological effects and impacts. PTSD is very common, the effects on the family of having gone through an experience like that – that’s the best case scenario.”

Still, Cox often treats those with life-altering injuries, what he calls the worst case scenario.

“On our service right now, we have some that are very young that had gunshot wounds that are either paraplegic or quadriplegic, they are not able to walk and will probably be in a wheelchair the rest of their lives because of the injuries they’ve had,” he explained.

Cox’s mission isn’t to scare the public with this information.

“It’s just for people to be aware and start looking at how can we impact this, how we can decrease what we’re seeing in terms of the gun violence, because it is a huge amount. Until we get everybody to understand how big of a problem it is, it’s hard to see how we’re going to make headway in terms of limiting it.

Gunshot victims only make up a fraction of the trauma cases treated at UAB. Over the last twelve months it’s treated 6715 trauma patients. 1228 of those were shooting victims.

As the number of shooting cases increases, so has the overall trauma caseload which is up forty percent over the last two years.

Read more 6 On Your Side Investigates stories here.

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