Gun violence estimated to cost local hospital systems millions of dollars annually

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- As gun violence continues to plague communities across the nation and the state, the emotional and financial toll is adding up.

"It is heart-wrenching because I know how it feels as a mother getting that phone call. It's the most life-changing phone call you can get," said Arry McNeill.

McNeill lost her son, Antonio Styles, to gun violence in 2017. He was only 17 years old.

Since his death, she's become an advocate against gun violence and a resource for other grieving families. McNeill said the constant shootings are getting hard to handle.

"My heart breaks all over I just get really emotional and I feel like I'm going through like a grieving process," McNeill said.

The ABC11 I-Team uncovered over the summer a shooting occurred every five minutes in North Carolina. The victims of these shootings, inevitably ended up in hospital beds across the state.

WakeMed's Emergency Departments treated 28% more gunshot wounds this year than in 2019.

Duke's emergency departments report a similar increase with 42% more victims treated this fiscal year than two years ago.

Cape Fear Valley's emergency departments treated more than 400 gunshot victims in 2020, the highest reported of all four hospital systems the I-Team reached out to. This year's number of victims remains lower at 326.



UNC's emergency departments treated 43% more wounds in 2020 than 2019 but so far is reporting 61 fewer victims in 2021.

Experts and healthcare officials said often these victims are either not insured or underinsured, leaving the cost of their care to fall on the healthcare system and ultimately taxpayers.

"There is some money that comes from the state to help take care of folks that are indigent and disproportionate share money or those kinds of things but generally speaking those costs are absorbed by the health system and then indirectly help to take care of by state funds or national funds," said Dr. Samuel Fleishman, Cape Fear Valley's Chief Medical Officer.

A 2021 U.S. Government Accountability Office report estimated the average gunshot wound cost between $8,000-$11,000 to treat.

But Fleishman said this is a conservative estimate.

"If somebody has a gunshot wound and they're bleeding and need to go to the operating room and get repaired, I mean you've got all the surgical services and seizure services, lab services, pathology services, hospital stays for a number of days," he said. "I mean that actually may be a relatively low estimate for what I could imagine, especially if you have more serious wounds."

Given this estimate, gunshot wounds this year already add up to between $8.4-11.5 million between the four hospital systems (UNC, Duke, WakeMed, Cape Fear Valley).

Last year these hospitals reported treating a total of 1,144 wounds, which totals upwards of $12.5 million.



"It certainly drains the health system and also is a cost to the state and to all of us at the end of the day to help take care of these individuals," Fleishman said.

He said he believes gun violence needs to be addressed as a public health issue and tackled by multiple stakeholders.

"It's going to take government officials, law enforcement, social services, other programs, the health system all coming together to see what it is we can do to help people come up with better solutions," he said.

Nationwide, the GAO report estimated treating gunshot wounds costs more than $1 billion annually. Physician costs were not accounted for, so officials said the actual cost is likely much higher.

McNeill said with each shooting, she becomes more passionate about the work she does to end gun violence.

"We need to get on a bigger spectrum of letting people know how serious this is," she said. "This doesn't just affect the family, as well as the loved one, it's the people around. It's the person who even pulled the trigger."

McNeill speaks at schools and in August hosted an outreach event called "Heal the Ville". The Fayetteville event gave the community the opportunity to speak about ending gun violence and working with police.
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