MOBILE, Ala. (WKRG) — There are now mandatory gunshot reporting guidelines that all hospitals in the state of Alabama have to follow.
The new law went into effect on September 1, 2019. Before then, Alabama was one of only three U.S. states where hospitals were not required to report non-accidental gunshot wounds. This means someone could be involved in a shooting and taken to an area hospital by private vehicle. Police would never be notified because of HIPAA laws. This law changes that.
So until now, no one could accurately compare the number of gunshot wounds being treated at local hospitals, to the numbers law enforcement officials were getting.
Jon Simmons, Chief Trauma Medical Director at USA Health University Hospital said, “We felt like we were seeing more gunshot wound victims than the police knew about. By deidentifying and sharing some of our data, we’re able to determine that we did see approximately 30-percent of patients that they didn’t know about.”
According to Doctor Simmons, approximately 300 gunshot victims are treated at that hospital alone each year, and more than half of those shootings happen within city limits.
He said, “Pretty profound when you think about it. About 200 of those come from Mobile city itself, and we see about the same number of knife stab wounds so on average. We’re on route to have 2500 trauma admissions this year and about 20-percent of those are penetrating injuries such as knife stab wounds and gunshot wounds.”
Like most of us, local surgeons, and police want the violence to stop.
“We need to reduce gun violence. How do we reduce gun violence? By trying to understand why it occurs, and what can we do to address those questions and those answers that we come up with,” said Mobile Police Department Commander Curtis Graves.
Commander Curtis Graves believes mandatory reporting is a step in the right direction. He, along with Project Thrive, a part of the Mobile Police Department dedicated to helping victims of violent crimes, played a large role in putting it into motion.
“I want to say that partnerships made it happen, and partnerships did make it happen. But I did speak out to legislators, tried to get people to hear what our concerns were and I was fortunate to have a conversation with State Representative Adeline Clark who embraced our concern,” Commander Graves told Cherish Lombard.
Dr. Simmons believes mandatory reporting will reduce gun violence in Mobile because police now have knowledge of where crime is occurring and how often it’s happening there.
“I think gun violence, in general, has been polarized politically and I think if we approach it like any other public health crisis, just like car crashes have done in the past, and investigate it like a public health crisis, that we’ll be able to reduce the amount of people being affected by gunshot wounds,” he said.
He says he believes it took so long for Alabama to jump on board with mandatory reporting because he doesn’t think the majority of legislators were even aware that Alabama didn’t have a law in place. The good news is there is one moving forward.
The only states now without mandatory reporting laws now are New Mexico and Wyoming.