Hospitals & Facilities

Trinity Health President and CEO Michael Slubowski calls gun violence a top issue

From metal detectors in emergency departments to newspaper ads: how Trinity Health is fighting gun violence.
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· 5 min read

Amid rising rates of firearms-related injuries and healthcare worker assaults, more US hospital leaders are calling for action to address gun violence as a public health crisis.

Among them is Michael Slubowski, president and CEO of Michigan-based Trinity Health—one of the nation’s largest Catholic healthcare systems, with 88 hospitals across 26 states.

Slubowski has joined Northwell Health President and CEO Michael Dowling’s National Health Care CEO Council on Gun Violence Prevention and Safety, a task force of around 50 hospital executives formed in early 2023 to bring attention to the issue. Slubowski has also called on Congress to support bipartisan solutions to curb gun violence via enhanced background checks, expanded access to behavioral health services, and community-based violence prevention initiatives.

Trinity Health, meanwhile, has ramped up violence de-escalation training for its security personnel, developed a three-tiered workplace violence prevention program, and enhanced its security screenings—including installing metal detectors in emergency departments—as part of its commitment to safety.

Slubowski spoke with Healthcare Brew about these efforts and the importance of addressing gun violence through a public health lens.

This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Tell me about the changes Trinity has made to promote gun violence prevention.

Gun violence is a public health and safety crisis: That’s our whole position. We’re not taking stances on gun rights or anything like that. It’s a fact that gun violence is a public health and safety crisis, and healthcare workers are on the front lines in our role to keep communities healthy and safe.

We’ve got advocacy efforts—working with [officials at the] local, state, and federal levels to address the root causes of gun violence.

We’re joining with other health systems and organizations that are working to depolarize the issue of gun safety and effectively address gun violence. Northwell Health started their gun violence coalition; we’re part of that. We’re part of the national effort. There are 50 leaders from large health systems, including me, who signed on to promote the implementation of evidence-based firearm injury and mortality prevention in healthcare.

We have undertaken efforts to protect patients and staff by partnering with local police departments. We put up signs talking about non-tolerance of violence or violent acts in our facilities. In many emergency departments now, we do have metal detectors. We always worry about the balance between putting up these barriers versus [being] places of healing and health and openness to supporting communities.

How do you strike that balance between being a place of refuge for patients and making sure that everyone there is safe?

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You have to create an environment of vigilance. There’s a lot of things that places do to monitor with cameras, with security barriers, and things where it’s somewhat opaque to the patients and families.

There’s no easy formula for dealing with this. You just have to use common sense and really support your folks, because we are committed to a safe work environment for our colleagues. You do planning for emergencies, like active shooter drills, and ways to combat violence in the organization, behavior-based training, all those things.

Have any of Trinity’s facilities seen major incidents of violence against staff, or has behavior just generally shifted in recent years?

We have experienced fatal gun-related events on our campuses. We’ve also experienced some lockdowns at some of our locations.

There’s an increase in mental health issues. People are acting out more and being violent toward healthcare workers—whether they’re using a gun or they’re using other means. So it’s an area of increased vigilance and effort.

We had a physician who lost his life on a campus because a disgruntled family member didn’t get a prescription that they wanted. We’ve had people produce a weapon in an emergency department before we used metal detectors. We’ve had people enter facilities with a weapon. We’re not unique in that regard; we hear that from our colleagues across the United States.

Why is it so important that healthcare professionals tackle this issue, and have you seen any ripple effects from this advocacy?

It’s a public health and safety crisis. It’s part of our mission to create a safe environment. And let’s face it, people are tragically showing up [to hospitals] as victims of gun violence. We do our very best to care for them rapidly. It’s just tragic to see it happening.

The more people who sign on to efforts like this—we all signed on to ads in some papers and are sharing some of the best practices—it builds courage among people to speak out on this. What it does is create a unified voice across the health industry that we’re concerned and taking action.

Safety is one of our core values—actually, in our mission, vision, and values. That safety applies to both our colleagues or employees, and the patients we serve. You can’t just put that as a value in your value statement and not live it out.

Navigate the healthcare industry

Healthcare Brew covers pharmaceutical developments, health startups, the latest tech, and how it impacts hospitals and providers to keep administrators and providers informed.