We did our best, but it wasn't nearly enough.
Almost immediately after the horrific events of 12/14 in Newtown, the local doctors who were involved that day began to consider how we could contribute to the national discussion about reducing violence and protecting our children. From that, the United Physicians of Newtown was formed (website here), of which I am a member.
We've agreed on a position statement (link). Already the group has had some exposure in the news, particularly through Dr William Begg, who was featured on The Last Word, interviewed on Piers Morgan, and is seen here testifying to the Senate this past week:
In that regard, I have had the opportunity to talk to J. James Bruno II, MD, a respected local urologist and Founder and Chairman of United Physicians of Newtown about how and why this group got started, and what its intentions are.
Join me below the fold to learn from Dr. Bruno on how the group expects to contribute to our national dialogue.
Daily Kos: A number of different groups have organized around the events of 12/14. What made you decide to try and organize Newtown physicians into a specific group?
Dr Bruno: Soon after I picked my 5 year old daughter up from the Sandy Hook Firehouse on December 14th and processed that she was physically safe I began to think about how physicians could help our town. On Jan 17th I received a group email from the American College of Surgeons about their revised Statement on Firearm Injuries. I spoke with David Hoyt, MD, the Executive Director of the ACS and informed him of my thoughts of uniting a group of Newtown doctors in response the tragedy. He empowered me to proceed with this coalition stating that we would have a unique and powerful voice in this local and national debate. I began speaking with the several doctors I knew in Newtown and over the course of a few days had my feelings echoed by all of them—specifically that as health professional we can, and must, be a voice in these dark days.
By personal calls, email lists and word of mouth this concept began to reach out to each and every doctor we could identify who lived or worked in Newtown. On January 31, 2013, I assembled 75 physicians at the C.H. Booth Library in Newtown for our inaugural meeting to have an open forum about these issues. The open dialogue that evening and the subsequent emails allowed the Steering Committee to ultimately formulate the United Physicians of Newtown Position Statement.
Daily Kos: Did you expect as robust a response (over 100 members) as you got?
Dr Bruno: Frankly, no. I must say that I personally knew less than 25 physicians that lived in Newtown before that evening. Although in retrospect it should not have been so surprising (based on the quality of the town), I was amazed that more than 100 doctors lived or worked in Newtown. I did not expect that the response would be as robust, as unified and nearly unanimous.
Daily Kos: Why do you think so many physicians responded?
Dr Bruno: The physicians of Newtown are not only incredibly talented in their respective specialties and profoundly intelligent, but are also passionate about their town and their children. The overlap between the mind of a doctor and the heart of a parent was the catalyst for these Newtown citizens to join the coalition.
Daily Kos: What goals do you hope to achieve short and long term?
Dr Bruno: Our goals have a variety of time horizons. In the short term our goal is to promote our position statement to all of our local and nation medical societies. We represent nearly every medical specialty and believe that every society should share a similar position statement. Whether surgeon or dermatologist, ER doctor or psychiatrist, pediatrician or pathologist this epidemic demands all physicians in the United States respond to this worsening public health crisis.
In the intermediate term we look to promote our coalition’s tenets to the legislators and the media. By working in this sphere we can not only be a resource for the politicians through testimony, advisory panels, forums, etc, but more importantly can act as a voice for our town and our lost citizens. We believe the press can help promote our cause to physicians and the public alike throughout the country.
In the long term our plans are as broad as they are far reaching. Although we have not formulated the exact details they include creating a medical symposium on the impact of the culture of violence, mental health, firearms and most importantly research on this epidemic. We also look to gain support from the millions of people (inside and outside of medicine) who share a similar vision.
Daily Kos: Right now, the group is mostly local physicians. Do you anticipate other medical professionals joining? What about doctors from outside Newtown?
Dr Bruno: The short term answer is unfortunately “no.” Although it has been hard to decline the genuine offers and support from nurses, PAs, etc in town and doctors from other towns we are currently faced with several restraints. Being extremely busy with full time practices and families our time is limited to begin with; we do not envision this to be a 501(c)(4) or lobby group, nor do we have an administrator, manager or publicist. As such, the scope is inherently limited to the ~100 members we have now based on the limits of our time.
The long term answer may very well be a growth from “United Physicians of Newtown” to “United Physicians for Newtown”.
Daily Kos: The group is not soliciting money, but are there things you want the general public to do? Should non-Newtown physicians contact their own state medical societies with the UPoN proposals or review the proposals to see if they can be endorsed locally or in other states? Should non physicians contact their Congressmen about UPoN and these proposals?
Dr Bruno: Absolutely. The United Physicians of Newtown Position Statement is a document that has been carefully crafted and expresses the fundamental tenets of this coalition. We offer the (credited) use of the position statement to physicians and non physicians alike in order to actively promote the recommendations of UPoN to their local, state and national medical societies and legislators.
Daily Kos: How can local doctors and hospitals help achieve your goals? Do you think there’s a role for education, or for anticipatory screening in the office? What’s the best way for doctors to work on these goals from a professional perspective?
Unfortunately hospitals are being limited in their ability to speak against this worsening public health epidemic and endorse these proposals. Nevertheless, individual doctors—as citizens—can uses these tenets as a starting point to call, email and write to their local, state and national medical societies and legislators. The power of this professional voice can, and will, lead to a paradigm shift in the culture of violence, firearms themselves, and mental health via epidemiological research and the enacting of real legislative change.
Daily Kos: Clearly this has been a large task to form a coalition of over 100 doctors. Who has assisted you in this endeavor?
Dr Bruno: I am very proud to be the founder and chairman of the United Physicians of Newtown. This Herculean organizational task has been made possible by the voice of all the members and also the talents of the Steering Committee. Each has their own unique skill set that had made this group possible. Robert Bazuro, DO, Raul Arguello, MD and I were together at the Sandy Hook Firehouse on the morning of December 14th and became the initial nucleus of the organization which has now grown to six on the steering committee including myself.
Dr. Bazuro (Emergency Medicine) is our director of communications and internet/facebook creator
Dr. Arguello (Pediatrics) is our pediatric expert and liaison to pediatricians.
Dr. Charles Herrick (Psychiatry) is our psychiatric expert and mental health liaison.
Dr. Gregory Dworkin (Pediatric Pulmonology) is our media liaison [and today's interviewer - ed.]
Dr. William Begg (Emergency Medicine) is our spokesman and public face of the coalition.
Their unyielding passion and incredible abilities have made United Physicians of Newtown what it is today.
Daily Kos: Thank you, Dr Bruno.