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Louisville Could Force Doctors To Report Gunshot Wounds To Police

Police caution tape
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A 17-year-old has been charged as an adult for attempted murder after police say he fired shots at Clarksville Police Chief Mark Palmer's home in September.

A Louisville Metro Council member is proposing an ordinance that would mandate doctors report gunshot wounds and other firearm-related injuries to public health officials and the police.

The proposal from Council Member Anthony Piagentini (R-19) would require doctors to collect data on patients who seek treatment for those injuries, including name, sex, race and the date and location of the injury. They would then have to share that data with the Louisville Metro Department of Health and Wellness. 

In an interview with WFPL, Piagentini said it’s important that officials have accurate data on firearm-related injuries as Louisville sees record-breaking amounts of gun violence. He said it could inform some of the city’s new initiatives like group violence intervention.

“This information is critical to really understand what happened on the scene,” he said. “We don’t know what we don’t know.”

The ordinance would allow the Louisville Metro Police Department to contact the victim, if they consent. As written, the proposed ordinance requires the Health Department to share all of the data it collects, including identifiable information, with the police, regardless of the victim’s consent. 

But Piagentini said that was an error. He said the intent of the legislation is not for police to have identifiable patient information unless the victim agrees to it.

“We’re trying to balance these conflicting interests,” he said.

Piagentini said he is currently setting up meetings with local hospitals, health officials and LMPD to refine the ordinance and the information sharing process, and he’s likely to amend his proposal after.

Would More Data Help?

Rebecca Hollenbach, executive director for Metro Louisville’s Center for Health Equity, said the information they currently have from law enforcement and other sources is “imperfect.” City officials know they are not tracking every shooting.

“If you wanted to get a comprehensive sense of what gun violence looks like in Louisville, you currently have to triangulate it from a few different sources,” Hollenbach said. “Even when you triangulate it from those sources, it’s probably still not comprehensive.”

Louisville Metro Government does receive some data on firearm injuries from the University of Louisville Hospital. The hospital has the region’s only Level 1 trauma center and sees most adult gunshot wound victims from Louisville, western Kentucky and southern Indiana.

Annabelle Pike, the healthy community and injury prevention manager at U of L Hospital, said healthcare workers collect more than 250 data points on each patient who comes in with a traumatic injury. But most of that data is protected patient information under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act or HIPAA.

“One thing that people don’t always realize is that the date someone was shot is actually protected health information, so we can’t even give that,” she said.

Because of patient protections, the data shared by U of L Hospital is not nearly as specific as what the proposed ordinance calls for. They don’t share names, addresses or identifiable information.

What the hospital does provide is aggregate data, like the number of patients seeking treatment for gun wounds stemming from “interpersonal violence,” Pike said. That kind of data doesn’t allow for Louisville Metro and other community partners to identify victims, but it can help them get an understanding of broad trends in gun violence. For example, interpersonal disputes accounted for 77 percent of gunshot wounds the hospital saw in 2019. That’s increased recently to around 82 percent, Pike said.

Concerns About Patient Trust

Public health officials say that, as it’s currently written, the proposed ordinance could dissuade people from seeking care for gunshot wounds or other firearm-related injuries. 

Hollenbach said research suggests that if patients think their information will be shared with police, they might not seek treatment.

“I do know that there are definitely people who come in and want to talk to the police and want to be connected to the police,” she said. “There are also people who do not want any police involvement.”

This issue is something that U of L Hospital sees first-hand. Pike said one community healthcare worker is often mistaken for a police officer and it causes issues.

“Our patients will completely shut down,” she said. “He has to pull out his U of L badge and show his picture on all our promotional materials and say, ‘Hey, no … I’m just here to help.”

The ordinance could be taken up by Metro Council's Public Safety Committee as early as September 1.

Roberto Roldan is the City Politics and Government Reporter for WFPL. Email Roberto at rroldan@lpm.org.