The Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency (PCCD) studied the impact of non-fatal firearm-related injuries in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania by using data from the Pennsylvania Health Care Cost Containment Council (PHC4). Researchers from PCCD and the Research and Training Institute at Indiana University of Pennsylvania (IUP) examined estimated costs associated with treatment and recovery from non-fatal firearm-related injuries from January 2016 through June 2021.
PCCD’s research initiative arose from recommendations by the Special Council on Gun Violence, a diverse panel of experts focused on curbing gun violence in Pennsylvania. This panel emphasized the need for robust data and quality research that could be used to help inform policy. From this, the Gun Violence Research Agenda was created by the PCCD, which aimed to provide needed information to state agencies and education institutions about the scale and financial impact of firearm-related injuries.
Kirsten Kenyon, Director of Office of Research, Evaluation and Strategic Policy Development at the PCCD shared, “PHC4’s extensive data greatly aided the research team in gathering vital information on firearm-related injuries in the Commonwealth. The detailed dataset filled a crucial knowledge gap for Pennsylvania by offering insights into patient characteristics (age, race, health insurance), healthcare provider (inpatient vs outpatient), injury specifics (causes, diagnoses), treatments (procedures, surgeries, equipment), duration of treatment, and associated charges.”
Using PHC4 data, the researchers determined that over the period from 2016 through the first half of 2021, Pennsylvania hospitals treated approximately 10,640 new non-fatal firearm injuries and the treatment for these patients resulted in an estimated cost of $308.4 million. To determine estimated costs, the researchers multiplied the PHC4 charge data by hospital-specific cost-to-charge ratios from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. The research team also found the number of injuries from firearms increased 20 percent between 2016 to 2020 (the last year of full calendar year data), and the estimated cost incurred to treat these injuries increased 107 percent.
In reference to non-fatal firearm injuries, the report noted that the onset of COVID-19 caused a dramatic surge in injuries, peaking for both accidental and assault cases. Economic and racial disparities were evident, with the poorest fifth of zip codes covering 60 percent of estimated medical costs. In addition, Black Pennsylvanians represented two-thirds of patients treated for firearm-related injuries despite accounting for 11 percent of the state’s population.
PCCD believes this research offers new insights into non-fatal firearm injuries and highlights the need for hospital-based strategies that merge medical care, counseling, and community engagement. It emphasized the value of community-oriented prevention and intervention efforts, such as the PCCD’s Violence Intervention and Prevention (VIP) Grants Program, which focuses on the core causes of gun violence before a shooting occurs.
The researchers’ public report on these findings was released in August 2022, and can be accessed from the PCCD website.