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$100 million: the cost of treating gunshot victims in Chicago this year

At least $100 million has been spent just on the initial treatment of non-fatal shooting victims in Chicago this year.

Close to 2,000 people were taken to hospitals in the city following shootings since Jan. 1, including 100 in the week leading up to Saturday evening. 

The average cost of treating a gunshot victim is over $50,000, according to the Cook County Board, which manages the city’s largest public hospital, where many of the victims are treated.

While much of the focus has been on the high homicide rate in Chicago, with 376 so far this year, a further 1,964 people had been non-fatally shot as of Saturday evening.

The cost of treating a victim can vary widely, from a few thousand dollars for a flesh wound, to hundreds of thousands for those critically injured.

At an average of $52,000, the total cost of treating the victims is just north of $100 million. According to the Cook County Board, 70 percent of shooting victims are uninsured.

But the cost is likely to be even higher as that $52,000 figure was revealed three years ago by Cook County Board president Toni Preckwinkle. It is the only time an estimate of the cost of treating shooting victims has been made public.

Preckwinkle was speaking as she pushed for taxes on guns and ammunition, which have since been introduced. She said revenue from the firearm tax would help pay for the costs of treating gunshot victims at Cook County hospital. But the gun tax, introduced in 2013, brings in $600,000, while the ammunition tax, introduced June 1, will raise an estimated $300,000.

Trauma surgeon Dr. Tom Esposito said the cost of treating gunshot victims has likely risen because health-care costs have increased.

“And you have to consider rehabilitation for many, many years,” Esposito said. “You are not even talking about loss from the workforce, if they are working.

“Sometimes there are lifelong disabilities, as long as they are alive, and all during that time they are a taxation on the rest of society because we are paying and they are not contributing. It is in the millions,” said Esposito, former medical director for trauma at Loyola University Medical Center in Maywood, Illinois.

Sharon Gautschy, executive director of the Chicago-based American Association for the Surgery of Trauma, said the number of shootings in the city was “scary” — more than Los Angeles and New York combined.

“It’s been brutal this whole year,” said Gautschy. The total number of shootings in 2015 was 2,900. “It’s an epidemic.”

In the week ending Saturday, 14 people were killed and 100 wounded in shootings across Chicago.

The University of Chicago Crime Lab says the cost of gun violence nationwide is about $100 billion. Besides health-care costs, the total includes intangibles such as loss of jobs, population or businesses as a result of gun violence.