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Hennepin Healthcare workers crushed by cost of gunfire: "It's a public health emergency crisis"

Hennepin Healthcare workers call gun violence a public health crisis
Hennepin Healthcare workers call gun violence a public health crisis 05:22

MINNEAPOLIS  The pandemic took a real toll on our healthcare workers. But right now, another public health crisis has become just as crushing. 

Last year alone, Hennepin Healthcare in Minneapolis treated 285 shooting victims. That's nearly one a day. Eighty-five percent of them are now survivors.

"All you see is young, previously healthy people in pain and suffering and scared," Dr. Jim Miner said.

"There's not one kid that doesn't make it that doesn't impact you," Dr. Ashley Bjorklund said.

"It can be devastating and heartbreaking," Dr. Kofi Fosu said.

"I feel like the general public doesn't have any idea how bad it is," nurse Daniela Morales said.

"To me, it's a public health emergency crisis," nurse Evan Trewyn said.

These healthcare workers see the cost of gunfire regularly. 

It's lights and sirens when there's a call for a person who's been shot.

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"They are super quick. They are fast-paced, fast action," Hennepin Emergency Medical Services paramedic Angela said.

Hennepin EMS transports a victim right to Hennepin Healthcare, the state's busiest level-one trauma center. 

"They have a team waiting for us. It's a quick hand-off," Angela said.

The care starts right through the main doors in what's called the stabilization, or stab room. It's where doctors and nurses treat hundreds of gunshot wound patients. 

"Most days we see someone who's been a victim of gun violence. And it ranges from non-lethal, glancing wounds to multiple gunshot wounds to the head and chest. And it's tragic. It's preventable. It's death and destruction of young, healthy people who don't need to be dying," Miner, who is chief of emergency medicine, said.

They work to stabilize the patient.

"If somebody is shot in their torso or head or even an upper extremity, the surgeons are on their way the moment it happens and we're there trying to get IV access, to figure out what's going on, to figure out where they're bleeding," Miner said.

"What does full speed look like?" Investigative Reporter Jennifer Mayerle asked.

"It's really, really fast. Our idea of right away is multiple people with a lot of skills going as fast as they can and doing everything all at the same time. Seconds make a huge difference," Miner said.

That's when a trauma surgeon, like Fosu, enters the picture. 

"Bullets are unique in that the injuries, their cause can be so unexpected. High-impact gunshot wounds — they can be unpredictable," Fosu said.

He rushes a patient to the operating room. 

"In the OR is where we do the crucial part of our job. Really our goal is to see what's injured. To stop the bleeding. To stop any contamination. Ultimately we want to save a life," Fosu said.

Trewyn, an emergency department nurse, is in the midst of continual trauma care.

"It's mind-numbing for people that wouldn't usually see that. Mind-numbing for me who's seen it for the last 20 years and I have to put it aside because I don't know what's coming in next," Trewyn said.

He's found parenthood has changed when he needs to pause.

"I do have to step away when children come in close to my children. I know that circumstances could just be flipped and I could be in their situation with my children," Trewyn said.

It's a stark reality of who's being impacted in the community.

"There is something different about caring for children that have been impacted by firearms. That fact that I even have to say a statement like that," Bjorklund said.

Bjorklund is the medical director of the pediatric ICU. 

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"Some of these kids are on ventilators and certainly there's kids where we think, they survive initially and progress to need support for end-of-life care," Bjorklund said.

It takes a toll.

"We're trained to work through it but in pediatrics, I think we're pretty intentional to take time to reflect upon the care that's being provided and how it's impacting us," Bjorklund said.

And how it changes how they manage at work and at home. 

"More stress, right? More emotional time I need to spend to recover from the care I provide to patients daily. And a lack of feeling safety for my own children. I text parents before they go to the house, 'Do you have firearms, are they stored properly?' That's a common text," Bjokrlund said.

Pediatric nurse Daniela Morales says she creates firmer boundaries with family and friends.

"If there's any sort of unneeded stress or drama, I have to draw the line. I feel like I can't tolerate as much anymore," Morales said.

The hard comes with this lifesaving work.

"It's hard to see people hurt so frequently and it's hard to constantly be processing all of the loss of lives that are just senselessly destroyed," Miner said.

"You see this violence day in and day out and sometimes you just have to remember why you're doing what you're doing," Fosu said.

These days there is always another call, another patient with a gunshot wound to help, another run for a paramedic.

"You can be frustrated with society, just the recklessness of what people are capable of doing to other people. It affects everybody. If you're not coping with it in a healthy way, it will eat you and you won't be in this field at all," paramedic Angela said.

Hennepin Healthcare has what's called a critical incident support team. It provides immediate emotional support after a traumatic experience and holds drop-in support hours after a stressful event. Plus, there are regular meetings for units that experience a higher number of events, like the emergency department and pediatric intensive care unit. 

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