Is Gun Violence A Health Disparity?

Revolver and bulltes on a dark surfaceThe National Medical Association (NMA) is the nation’s oldest and largest medical association representing the interest of over 50,000 African American physicians and the patients they serve. The NMA is committed to addressing health disparities and cites gun violence as a disparity.

“The President of the United States was on target in his call for the American people to demonstrate an unwavering commitment to reducing gun violence in our country. The Congress must now follow his lead, and pass meaningful legislation to reduce the bloodshed,” said Rahn Kennedy Bailey, MD, FAPA, President of the NMA Chairman of the Department of Psychiatry, Meharry Medical College and one of the nation’s leading psychiatrists.

“As a forensic psychiatrist, I have witnessed both ends of the spectrum, the victim and the criminal. Gun violence has been an issue in this country for decades.”

The NMA stands ready to be a resource and assist the President and specifically Health and Human Services Secretary, Kathleen Sebelius, as well as U. S. Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan.

“The NMA has always been at the forefront of patient advocacy since its existence, we have steadfastly supported mental health equity. I have personally dedicated my life to ensuring that we increase awareness, diagnosis and treatment of mental illness while combating stigma and barriers to care,” said Dr. Bailey.

“The NMA houses experts from various aspects of medicine and stands ready to participate in the dialogue on mental health, patient privacy and other health related issues.”

The NMA is encouraged by the Obama Administration’s Gun Violence Prevention Task Force recommendations which directly affect healthcare professionals and their patients:

Directing the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to resume public health research on gun violence
Clarifying mental health benefits under the Affordable Care Act (ACA)
Reminding doctors that the ACA does not prohibit asking their patients about guns in their homes;

Releasing a letter to state health officials clarifying the scope of mental health services that Medicaid plans must cover
Finalizing regulations clarifying essential health benefits and parity requirements within ACA exchanges

Committing to finalizing mental health parity regulations and launching a national dialogue on mental health.

In an op-ed response following the Sandy Hook tragedy, Dr. Bailey proposed a three step approach to address violence:

Prevention: Physicians are trained to detect subtle signs of fragile and potentially violent thinking. States must support mental health programs with words, actions and resources.

Risk Management: Our country needs more restricted limits on gun ownership and a ban on the sale of assault weapons as a first step.

Education: We are educating our society with more violence by providing easy access to violent video games and other readily accessible violent entertainment…not less.
Dr. Bailey alerts the nation that people with severe mental illness are at greater risk of being victims of violent crimes versus the perpetrators. We must not categorize all patients with mental health needs as violent and capable of these horrendous acts.

The NMA is concerned about the potential risks to patient confidentiality, increased stigma and barriers to persons needing mental health evaluation. The organization is committed to working with the federal, state and local agencies in developing the protocols for implementation. Healthcare professionals must be at the table from the beginning and seen as invaluable partners in addressing gun violence.
“The NMA is uniquely prepared to partner and lead aspects of this national gun control initiative,” stated Dr. Bailey. “As the nation’s leading African American psychiatrists, trauma surgeons, emergency room, and primary care physicians; we are on the front lines every day trying our best to repair the damage done by an unconscionable amount of violence to the victims and their families; both physically and mentally. The nation must reduce the carnage today, because tomorrow is too long to wait.”