Community violence’s burden on hospitals

We all know the devastating effect that violence can have on our communities, but its impact on hospitals is less widely known.

A report commissioned by the American Hospital Association attempts to quantify that impact, and the tally is staggering: $2.7 billion spent by hospitals in 2016 on violence-related costs not covered by insurers. That includes $752.4 million for treating victims of community violence. Hospitals spent another $99.8 million on utilization review and case management for those violence-related health care costs.

Related article: Hospitals look to intervene, break the cycle of violence

“Keeping people healthy is at the heart of health care, and violence runs counter to that,” AHA President and CEO Rick Pollack said in a statement when the report was issued in July. “It’s our hope that quantifying the resources hospitals and health systems commit illustrates the enormity of this issue as a public health problem while giving hospitals the chance to highlight their efforts to keep their communities and workplaces safer.”

Often, low-income populations are adversely affected by violence. The AHA notes that payment rates for Medicare and Medicaid are lower than those provided by private insurance, meaning that a large share of the costs are borne by hospitals.

The report was produced as part of the AHA’s Hospitals Against Violence initiative, undertaken by the association at the behest of its board to bring more attention to what it says is “one of the major public health and safety issues throughout the country.” 

Melinda Hatton, general counsel for the AHA, who is spearheading the initiative, says she hopes the report will serve as a jump-off point for hospitals to conduct further research into the cost of treating victims of violence. She also urges hospital leaders to use AHA data to help fuel conversations with elected officials about the need for targeted funding for essential violence intervention and prevention initiatives that today, largely are shouldered by hospitals.

“One of the things that hospitals can do is to really start talking to their local and state leaders about this and begin laying the groundwork for the need to fund these activities,” she says. “We recognize that there are a lot of funding priorities, but I think starting to talk about this using the report and some examples from their own institutions is a good way to start that conversation.”

Marty Stempniak is a freelance writer based in Chicago.