How Rochester’s gun violence emergency impacts trauma teams

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. – As Rochester’s gun and violence emergency continues, trauma surgeons in our community are struggling to keep pace.  There’s been a dramatic rise in the number of people who come through their doors as victims of violence.    

The trauma team at Strong Memorial Hospital has already treated more than 250 shooting victims this year.  Sometimes those victims come in on an ambulance, but more recently, “they show up at our door and they don’t want to say where they were shot, there’s a lot of work that has to go into figuring out where that actual event happened,” explains Chief Trauma Surgeon Dr. Mark Gestering. 

In the past, it wasn’t uncommon for emergency departments to see an increase in shootings and stabbings on the weekends but there’s a new normal, “what I’ve seen is a shift toward more violent behavior and younger people at all hours of the day,” explains Dr. Gestering, “we have gun shots on Tuesdays at 10 in the morning, it’s not unusual anymore.”

The physical injuries are different too, “the number of bullets has exponentially gone up so, instead of being shot with two or three or four bullets, people are being shot with five or six or seven,” explains Dr. Gestering.  Even when the team save lives, in many cases those lives are never the same, “we move on and we say it was non-life-threatening, but you don’t mention that the patient is paralyzed, has a colostomy, lost a leg… those kind of things and these are generally young people who are involved in this activity, like less than 40 or so years old,” he adds.

While some victims of violence have always been hesitant to speak with Police, Dr. Gestering says that reluctance has only worsened in the last few years, “the overwhelming majority of patients, the victims, do not want to get involved with law-enforcement for whatever reason, sometimes there’s a cultural divide, but many times, they’re just like “I survived this gunshot wound I don’t need the possibility of reprisal, I don’t need people to know my name but the ones who are already know it,”” he tells News10NBC. 

The cycle has become taxing on the trauma team at Strong, a team that is looking to expand, “as a physician who is recruiting other physicians to work for me, but other business leaders have said this as well, I ask somebody to consider coming to Rochester the first thing they do is they Google Rochester and see what it’s all about and then headlines are four or five deep with some sort of violent story. People are looking twice,” says Dr. Gestering, “this is a problem that requires some attention from people who are in charge.”

Dr. Gestering has been participating in round-table discussions across the region in an effort to share his team’s experience so that it can be used to help shape public policy surrounding gun and crime justice reforms, “as a surgeon, when I take care of a gangrenous wound, the treatment for that is you have to cut the dead stuff off and then you apply your medicines and your technology to the healthy tissue or the sick tissue that can become healthy with resources,” he explains, “that’s very similar to what’s going on here, there’s a very small percentage of the population that is causing all this mayhem. They’re continually out on the street over and over and over again and you can’t fix what’s wrong until the really negative influence is controlled.”