On the morning of 12/14, medical duties were the last thing Newtowners Dr J. James Bruno and Dr Robert Bazuro were thinking about as they rushed separately toward Sandy Hook School praying their children were safe after hearing reports of a lockdown and possible shooting.
At the same time, Danbury Hospital Emergency Room physician Dr William Begg III and dozens of his fellow staffers were hastily but carefully constructing a mass casualty triage area anticipating a large number on incoming victims.
Minutes later, Drs Bruno and Bazuro were wrapping their arms around their children, grateful that they had escaped the wrath of a gunman who robbed the community of 20 first graders and six school staffers. And Dr Begg and his colleagues were rolling several shooting victims into the ER —while the rest of his team continued to stand by for additional wounded who never came.
Once the initial shock of what these and several other local residents and physicians experienced that day began to recede, their thoughts turned to action. Gathering together, these three along with Dr Charles Herrick, Dr Gregory Dworkin, and Dr Raul Arguello decided to apply their informed and distinct perspectives about the very personal but also very public threat of gun violence to a campaign aptly titled United Physicians Of Newtown (UPON).
Within days, more than 100 other physicians all residing or practicing in Newtown had signed on to the campaign, a Facebook page was launched, and then its own website, unitedphysiciansofnewtown.org. The group most recently drew several dozen colleagues to an organizing and informational event at Edmond Town Hall where Drs Bruno, Begg, and Bazuro helped further define the group’s mission.
Broadening The Reach
During that meeting, the organizers not only called for the core supporters to begin chatting up the effort across the entire statewide spectrum of medical professionals and support workers — from nurses to technologists — they appealed for those in attendance to reach out to colleagues and friends across the country and beyond to engage them in the cause.
Recognizing the three-month anniversary of the tragic school shooting, the meeting began with a moment of silence.
Then Dr Bruno addressed the audience, which included First Selectman Pat Llodra.
“Our future is going to be based on many opportunities and alliances,” Dr Bruno said, referencing the point that he and others in the room were on scene that fateful morning. He welcomed Mrs Llodra as an honorary member of the group.
During her welcoming remarks, Mrs Llodra confided that in her youth, she always dreamed of being a doctor. She also recognized the challenges she, the community, and the United Physicians are continuing to face.
“I’m hoping for, clearly, is that we are a force for good,” she said. “I think what we all saw on December 14 is that we have to have the courage to make a change — and we have a responsibility as humans, for the short time we walk the face of the earth, that our legacy should be something positive.”
The program continued with each of the three primary organizers talking about the vision they have for the UPON movement, and laying out the group’s four-point agenda. Much of the subsequent discussion was rooted in the message issued on the UPON website, which acknowledges that although members’ specialties differ, their goal is the same — “to stop this national epidemic that has taken our children.”
The doctors believe gun violence is a major public health issue, and that this epidemic concern can be successfully addressed as with other previous United States epidemics including tobacco, alcohol, and motor vehicle safety. Their recommendations encompass research, mental health, the culture of violence, and firearms.
Defining The Agenda
Regarding research, the UPON members hope to promote funding for research and education concerning firearm injury and death; to rescind the restriction on federal institutions (CDC, NIH, NIJ) pursuing research on violence prevention; and to create a comprehensive national firearm injury database.
On the issue of mental health, the group plans to promote immediate access to mental health services which is affordable, effective, and supportive; to enact reforms to reduce the risk borne by mental health providers in caring for mentally ill individuals at risk for violent behavior.
They also will encourage effective legislative measures for adjudicating disputes between patients’ right to refuse and their need for treatment, and advocate for financial resources dedicated to mental health.
To this point, Dr Begg told those gathered March 14, that there was no expectation to fund additional mental health programming, but simply to preserve the current level of funding available.
Regarding the culture of violence they see permeating society, the doctors hope to foster a comprehensive initiative to change societal norms that currently glorify guns and violence in the media and gaming, as well as promoting health care providers’ ability to discuss patients’ exposure to firearms and violence.
On the subject of firearms, the UPON supporters hope to see requirements initiated to ensure greater safety including those related to gun locks and safes. They support comprehensive, universal background checks for the purchase of firearms and ammunition, and want to see prohibitions to curtail the access of firearms and ammunition to high-risk individuals.
The group endorses legislation banning civilian access to assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition clips.
“As members, we believe that all of the local, state, and national medical organizations and elected officials should make this a top priority and should use their platform to promote awareness and enact real change to reverse this worsening epidemic,” the website states.
In reaching out to their state and nationwide networks of colleagues, UPON is offering to serve as a resource and voice. In turn, its supporters are encouraged to join core members serving as a resource at the local, state, and federal advisory boards, forums, symposiums, or governmental hearings.