As the number of homicides tops 100 again this year in Cleveland, recently-released numbers show the financial impact of gun crimes in Northeast Ohio.
According to figures from the region’s two level-one trauma centers, the cost of treating gunshot victims at University Hospitals and MetroHealth is more than $106 million since the beginning of 2020. Between the two hospitals, numbers show 2,454 patients have been treated for gunshot wounds in the last 30 months.
“Wow, that is alarming!” said Cleveland Ward Five Councilman Richard Starr. “That’s a crisis.”
It’s a crisis Starr is too familiar with. Before he was elected to council, Starr spent more than 14 years working with the Boys and Girls Club. That’s where he met David Warner. Starr called Warner one of his babies.
“He’s always been respectful, always been easy to talk to and coachable,” said Starr. “Not just on the court, but off the court.”
He is the kind of kid more interested in being in the gym playing basketball than hanging out on the streets, said Starr. It’s what made the alert on his phone September 11th a shock.
“It doesn’t make sense because you’re like, wow, what happened to Dave?” said Starr. “Wait, no, I just messaged him.”
In the shadow of the same Boys and Girls Club he spent so many hours in, Warner laid shot with five gunshot wounds.
“I’m just glad I get to see the next day,” said Warner.
The high school senior is at home recovering. He said on the day of the shooting he was supposed to meet friends to watch an afternoon movie.
“When I got there in person, the whole scenario changed,” said Warner.
He said instead of a movie, his friends started talking about buying a gun. The teen said after the money exchanged hands, bullets started flying.
“I heard my ears ringing,” said Warner. “Then I’m just like, all I know is I got to move.”
An ambulance rushed him to MetroHealth where doctors have treated more than 1,600 gunshots victims in the last two-and-a-half years.
“We need to talk about the equivalence of a Uvalde happening in Cleveland every two weeks,” said MetroHealth CEO Dr. Akram Boutros.
At MetroHealth alone, the cost of treating gun violence has been nearly $80 million during the last two and a half years.
The average cost of treating a gunshot patient at the hospital during that time is nearly $49,000.
“Every one of these visits is equal to a kid’s college education,” said Boutros. “We could have sent them to college for free.”
MetroHealth estimates nearly three out of every four patients treated for gun violence are covered by Medicaid, meaning taxpayers cover much of the expense.
Boutros calls gun violence the Achilles heel of Northeast Ohio.
“So, you’re going to pay for this one way or another,” said Boutros. “The idea that it’s not in my backyard, it’s not somebody I know, it’s a fallacy. It’s impacting you.”
Warner is hoping to recover from his injuries in time to join his teammates on the court when basketball season resumes.
In the meantime, a metal rod in his leg stabilizes the bone shattered by a bullet that day.
“It goes like from down to my knee all the way down to the ankle right here,” said Warner pointing to his stitched leg, marked with medical tape.
To Starr, the injuries are a reminder of the need for action when it comes to reducing gun violence in the community.
“We’ve got to face the reality of the neighborhoods that we live in, where it’s easier for you to get a gun than get a job,” said Starr.
And for Boutros, working to reduce violence is about to become his next full-time job.
The hospital leader plans to retire from MetroHealth at the end of the year.
He then plans to turn his attention to helping create what Boutros calls The National Center for the Reduction of Gun Violence in Cleveland.
His goal is to raise $100 million in the next five years to bring together experts from law enforcement, the medical field and academia to create solutions the center can take to the streets to help reduce gun violence.
It’s a plan that comes with lofty goals.
Boutros said he’d love to see a 50% reduction in the number of people shot in five years.
“As somebody who is really optimistic, I think it’s a layup,” said Boutros.
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