Written by Kim Furlow, communications manager for the Institute for Public Health
Dr. Mueller is assistant professor of Emergency Medicine at the School of Medicine and a faculty scholar at the Institute for Public Health.
Kristen Mueller says the Gun Violence Initiative (GVI) and its programs have changed her life. She is now one of only a handful of emergency medicine physicians who not only treats patients of gun violence, but offers them actionable alternatives to a violent lifestyle.
As an emergency medicine physician at Barnes-Jewish Hospital, Dr. Mueller is accustomed to seeing “a distressing amount of gunshot wounds” in both children and adults, with one-third of firearm deaths resulting from suicides, especially among those from rural communities.
After completing her residency at Barnes-Jewish Hospital in 2014, Dr. Mueller went on to become a faculty member at Washington University in St. Louis and continued to treat patients in the ER. Her mentors encouraged her to attend meetings for a new 2015 program launched by then Chancellor, Mark S. Wrighton and his wife Risa Zwerling, and the Institute for Public Health. It was called The Gun Violence Initiative (GVI) and its aim was to tackle one of our greatest public health challenges: death and injury as a result of gun violence.
Dr. Mueller says becoming involved with the GVI “changed her career trajectory.” Simply put, Dr. Mueller says, “Five years ago, the standard of care was to treat patients at risk for interpersonal gun or domestic violence for their injuries in the ER and then send them home without significant outpatient follow-up or intervention.” As the Gun Violence Initiative has evolved, she now also offers patient access to intervention programs such as Life Outside of Violence (LOV) and Counseling on Access to Lethal Means (CALM). Both programs help patients take action to stop further gun violence and suicide by guns. Mueller says she can now do more than just “raise awareness”. She can enable patients to take actionable steps that will help them stay safe and stop the cycle of violence.
According to Mueller, GVI’s launch of the LOV program has made the most impact in the lives of fellow staff and ER patients. “Getting two St. Louis healthcare systems (consisting of four hospitals), and three research universities to work together to provide post-treatment resources to patients in order to prevent further injury or death is an amazing feat in and of itself,” says Mueller. “Everyone who helped initiate the LOV Program should be commended.” How is it working? In the past year, just one of 84 patients provided with the LOV mentoring and resources have returned to the ER injured.
Today, Dr. Mueller is collecting and organizing data around the gun storage and the adaptation of the suicide prevention program, CALM, in hopes that it will be soon be disseminated and the program implemented throughout St. Louis hospital emergency departments. In the past year and a half, Mueller says, the program at Barnes-Jewish Hospital has helped approximately 150 patients learn about the importance of locking away their guns. “Safe storage is essential to helping prevent gun violence in our community,” Mueller says.
See the latest public service video on this issue led by Mueller’s colleague and fellow trauma surgeon, Dr. LJ Punch and team.
Dr. Mueller would like to see gun violence prevention and trauma-informed care training as part of every medical school curriculum. “It touches every medical specialty not just the ER staff,” she says. “The more we talk about gun violence as a public health issue, the more it becomes part of the prevention dialogue we have with patients. ‘Do you smoke, drink or have a gun in the house? How and where do you store your gun?’ These are the conversations we should be having everywhere.”
For Dr. Mueller, the answer to that question is a matter of life or death. Raising awareness is only the beginning.