INDIANAPOLIS, Ind.– Ishmael Harper sat around a table with coworkers at RecycleForce as they showed their scars and recounted the financial debts they accrued after being wounded by gunfire.
“They just shot me a couple times in the hand,” said DeWane Harper. “I had to go to the hospital for a week or two and undergo some surgery they put me under and took the bullet out.”
Jawan Thompson rolled up his sleeve.
“I got shot in the left arm. It came in. it went out the back. It broke my muscle bone. It ripped off my muscle tissue,” he said. “It ran me around $3,500, $4,000 about what the doctor bill was.”
David Banyon showed off a scar that looked like a snake slithering up his wrist.
“I got shot in my right forearm,” he said. “It ran me to like $5,000.”
Harper believes he’s lucky to have never been shot and or run up medical bills he can’t pay.
“If I get shot now I don’t got no insurance,” he said.
The employees at RecycleForce are working after completing their court-ordered sentences for convictions and making enough money to pay their bills or sign up for Medicaid.
Last year there were more than 160 gun homicides in Indianapolis and 447 non-fatal shootings.
Many of those victims became patients at Eskenazi Medical Center, where their care was often underwritten by the taxpayers.
“In a year we will get around 1,500 or so trauma patients of which we have a very high percentage of penetrating trauma,” said Chief of Surgical Services Dr. Clark Simons. “We are as high as 30-35 percent. That includes gunshot wounds and stab wounds but we have a very high percentage of firearm victims who come to this hospital.”
A recent study in Ohio found only 15 percent of the gunshot patients there carried private medical insurance.
A study by Stanford University found that nationwide gunshot wound treatment costs Americans nearly $1 billion and the average gunshot wound surgery and treatment is $32,700.
Two years ago, Eskenazi estimated its average gunshot wound cost as between $30,000-60,000.
“Violence or trauma is a public health issue, is a public health crisis that we’re in,” said Dr. Simons. “To really resolve the issue, all parties have to come in and talk about it and develop a plan on what’s the best way to deal with this.”
When the American College of Physicians published a position paper addressing gunshot violence from a public health perspective, the NRA responded by telling the doctors to, “stay in their lane.”
Surgeons responded by posting photographs of their emergency rooms after gun wound surgery to #ThisIsOurLane on social media.
“There is a human toll when you’re taking care of trauma patients,” said Dr. Simons. “For gun owners, do what you think is best but however understanding that there are some consequences of gunshots. There are medical consequences, legal consequences.
“Whether you’re for guns or not, we’re here to take care of patients.”
Dr. Simons said several years ago then-Wishard Memorial Hospital tracked a 35 percent recidivism rate among its gunshot patients who returned again and again with new wounds.
Now, with Eskenazi’s violence prevention programs, that rate has dropped to four percent.