Birmingham, Alabama is 69 percent black and 23 percent white.
White people long ago abandoned the city and rebuilt in Mountain Brook and Vestavia Hills (unfortunately, no legal means can keep the black undertow from following to the white suburbs anymore).
Life in nearly three-quarters black Birmingham in 2022 is a reminder why Jim Crow existed and why our ancestors put in place laws to protect their posterity.
We’re seeing this every day’: UAB adds surgeons to handle surge of gunshot wounds, by Amy Yurkanin, Birmingham News, December 22, 2022
This is another installment in Birmingham Times/AL.com joint series “Beyond the Violence: what can be done to address Birmingham’s rising homicide rate.”
The emergency department that handles the largest number of gunshot victims in Alabama has added surgeons and staff to handle a flood of cases that has doubled in the last eight years.
Dr. Jeffrey Kerby, director of the division of trauma and acute care surgery at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, said the number of gunshot victims has increased from about 600 to 1,200 a year since 2013. In the last three years, the number of overall trauma cases increased by 40 percent.
To adapt, the hospital has added full-time surgeons and trauma fellows – trained surgeons receiving extra training to treat patients who have been shot, injured in car crashes or other accidents. In 2019, the hospital added the additional trauma surgeons in part to keep up with a sharp increase in attempted gun homicides and suicides.
Some weekends, the staff handles as many as 10 to 15 gun violence victims a night – the equivalent of a mass casualty event from shootings across the city and state. The care performed in the first hour after an injury, the “golden hour,” can mean the difference between life and death. It’s harder to provide such life-saving care if a surgeon is already busy working on another patient.
The hospital treats gunshot victims in the Birmingham area and across the state as the only nationally-certified Level I trauma center in the state. Kerby said the trauma team activates when a page goes out from the communications center that coordinates emergency medical services.
“So, the team assembles,” Kerby said. “And it’s not just surgeons. It’s respiratory therapists, it’s nurses, it’s pharmacists, X-ray technicians all show up in the room. It’s like a NASCAR pit crew.”
As quickly as possible, they begin their work.
“Everyone has their job and responsibility,” Kerby said. “Instead of changing tires and putting in gasoline, we’re identifying immediately life-threatening injury and intervening in that and deciding where they need to go.”
Birmingham has struggled with rising rates of gun violence in the last several years, mirroring trends from across the country. Kerby said trauma surgeons nationwide have struggled to handle and understand rising levels of violence. They have pushed for more funding for research into firearms injuries and implemented plans to help prevent victims from being shot again.
“We’re really trying to talk about treating this as an epidemic,” Kerby said. “Every one of us is dealing with this at our own institutions. If we can help one, two, however many, at least it empowers us to do more than just take care of them after an injury.”
If there is any silver lining to this epidemic of gun violence, it has been advances in trauma treatment. UAB operates as a kind of lab for trauma care, incorporating partnerships with the military and specially designed research trials to improve care for victims.
“If you get here with a pulse and you don’t have a lethal brain injury, you have a 95 percent chance of walking out of here,” Kerby said. “Studying what we do in the first hour and the first couple of hours has improved how we treat people.”
Dr. Daniel Cox, the medical director for trauma, said UAB works closely with surgeons in the military. UAB Hospital hosts the Air Force Special Operations Surgical Team when they are not deployed to combat zones. Military surgeons develop many advances in trauma care in the battlefield that can then help civilians.
“We talk about with war the only good thing to come out of it are the medical advances,” Cox said. “You often have young, severely injured patients and we are constantly looking at how we can do that better.”
If the demographics were flipped, and Birmingham were nearly three-quarters white and less than 25 percent black, would the Air Force Special Operations Surgical Team be deployed to the majority white city to train and develop new techniques in fixing gun wounds (since the actual, majority black city offers conditions normally found only in times of war)?
Of course not.
But let’s keep pretending the quality of life—or lack thereof—found in majority black cities across America is somehow acceptable and we can blame this all on white NRA gun owners.