13 Investigation: How YOU pay $38 million for medical treatment for gunshot victims

HOUSTON, TX (KTRK) — Mitra Bolton stood by her car and rummaged through her purse after leaving a convenience store on the south side of Houston.

Out of the corner of her eye, she saw a truck backing up and a white car following it. She thought nothing of it and continued looking for her keys.

“As the car passed me, they clung out of the window and shot back,” Bolton said.

She said she ran back inside the store, but because she was wearing a black shirt, she didn’t realize she had been shot until she picked it up and saw blood running down his chest.

“I had a lot of holes in my shirt,” Bolton told 13 Investigates’ Ted Oberg. “It went in through my boobs and it came out. The doctor was telling me (it was) five inches from my heart, so I was just blessed.”

The shooting happened around 7:45 p.m. on April 26, 2021. By midnight, she was discharged from the hospital and back home to recover. But, more than a year later, Bolton is still paying medical bills related to the shooting and she’s not alone.

Our survey found that even if you’re not the victim of a shooting yourself — and you don’t know any of the 120 people who survive shootings each month on average — residents of Houston and Harris County still pay millions of dollars each year to help care for these victims. at the county hospital.

Taxpayers spent $38 million treating gunshot victims during a recent 12-month period, according to data provided by Harris Health, which serves as the county’s public health system. The costs ranged from everything from x-rays and pain management for minor injuries to intensive care visits for more serious injuries.

From June 1, 2021 through May 31, 2022, Harris County hospitals spent $45 million treating gunshot victims, according to Harris Health. They told us that about 84% of their costs come directly from taxpayers, either Harris County taxpayer dollars or federal Medicare and Medicaid funds, which means the cost of treating victims by ball was at least $38 million during that recent one-year period.

But that’s just the cost to us.

Private hospitals did not share their data with us, so we don’t know exactly how much the victims had to pay for treatment after being shot.

“Most of the care I provide is for underinsured or totally uninsured patients who get shot. Their care is paid for by the county. It’s a county hospital, so all those fees that we attribute to the care of this patient, it comes from the money we receive from the Harris County Commissioners Court,” said Dr. Chad Wilson, medical director of trauma at Ben Taub Hospital. people understand that.”

While hundreds of people die each year in Houston homicides, 13 investigators have found there are even more who survive shootings.

There were an average of 13 casualties per day in Houston in 2021 and 30% of those were injuries, according to Houston Police Department data.

Last year, 1,447 of the 4,891 gunshot victims were injured. Overall, there were 11% fewer shootings in the first six months of 2022 compared to the same period last year, according to the latest available data.

Yet there have been hundreds injured in shootings so far this year.

“In a 12-hour shift overnight, you can sometimes see as many as 10 people getting shot,” said Wilson, who is also an associate professor of surgery at Baylor College of Medicine. “Some of them will have minor injuries and they will be released the same day. Some of them will arrive, basically dead on arrival, and then my main job is to take care of those people who are in between – who have serious injuries that require intervention to make them feel better.”

During a one-year period from June 1, 2021 to May 31, 2022, Ben Taub spent $29 million on hospital treatment for 333 gunshot survivors who were assaulted. It cost about $8,000 for each gunshot victim treated in the ER, with the cost rising to $87,000 per person if the victim had to be admitted for treatment.

“If we could prevent the person from being shot, it would be an expense that was unnecessary,” Wilson said. “It’s much more difficult to prevent people from getting coronary heart disease or to prevent people from getting diabetes or to prevent people from getting cancer compared to something that seems so much more preventable because it’s It’s an event that just seems like it shouldn’t happen.”

SEE ALSO: How residents of this North Harris County neighborhood became immune to crime

Bolton was released from hospital the same day she was shot, but when she finally got home that night and tried to fall asleep, she was still in pain.

She feels blessed to have made it home alive, especially as she said police told her 11 shots were fired but she was only hit once . Yet she continues to pay for that night.

Bolton said her friends took her to Memorial Hermann, a private hospital, the night of the shooting. She still has pain in her chest since she was shot, and since she doesn’t have insurance or a primary care doctor, she went to Baylor St. Luke’s Medical Center for follow-up.

Between the two hospitals, she said she had a plan to pay around $10,000 in medical bills — all because she was an innocent bystander in a drive-by shooting.

She also mentally pays for filming. The stress has caused her blood pressure to fluctuate, she often has headaches and cannot sleep at night. She can’t even look in the mirror at the scar on her chest, from where she was shot, without collapsing.

“When I sleep, I still see that playing in my vision,” she said. “I always see the man dragging (from) the car. I see everything. It bothers me a lot. I wake up in the middle of the night and sometimes I call my sister and she’s like, ‘I’m fine.’ She’ll talk to me, calm me down and everything will be fine.”

“I just wish they would stop”

Last year, in the neighborhood where Bolton was shot, there were 193 shootings, and 57 people were injured.

“My cousin got shot (by) accident. A guy I was dating, he was killed in the same neighborhood where I was shot,” she said. “I’ve seen a lot of things, but I wouldn’t expect that (to happen to me).”

At Ben Taub County Hospital, Dr Wilson was initially surprised by how often gunshot victims also show up at the ER.

He moved to Houston from New York, where he worked at Bellevue, a public hospital.

“People tend to think New York is a really tough place but… (over there) I could see a gunshot wound every three or four nights on call. In fact, I only remember taking a handful of people to the OR place for gunshot wounds when I worked at Bellevue,” Wilson said. “Then I moved here and I just couldn’t believe it. My first night on call was just bullet wound after bullet wound after bullet wound. The variation in the amount of gun violence was so immediately palpable that I was like, ‘there’s just something different about this community. There is something else happening that is different here. Which of course makes you want to ask the question: what is this and how can we change this so that we see less gun violence here in Houston like I’ve seen in this game from New York. »

Wilson said the first time he helped treat a victim of a gunshot wound as a medical student doing rotations was “exhilarating”.

“We fixed everything and he had a happy outcome,” Wilson said. “I said it was something I would love to do and I fell in love with it.”

It was less exhilarating after the 10th time he treated a gunshot victim, and on the 100th time he said he had wondered, “Is there any way I can’t don’t have to do this every night of the week?”

“After doing it maybe a thousand times at this point in my life, I’m tired. It’s not exhilarating anymore. It’s frustrating. It’s sad. I think about my kids and I just don’t want to not that they’re raised in a world that (is) more violent than the world I grew up in,” he said. “I really don’t want it to be necessary for someone to be as experienced as I am in dealing with gunshot wounds.”

Wilson said gunshot wounds can range from life-threatening injuries to spinal cord injuries that paralyze someone or soft tissue injuries where the person is released quickly. Yet, he said, the physical pain caused by each gunshot wound is often accompanied by mental anguish.

“You can’t even classify a gunshot wound as minor because (it) will still have an incredible impact on that person. That person may have PTSD after being shot or shot. That person may not be able to come back back regardless of the lifestyle or community they lived in and not be afraid,” he said.

Bolton, who was shot in a convenience store parking lot, said the shooting changed her outlook on life.

She had to get rid of the car she was standing behind the day she was shot – even though it was still running, it brought back too many memories of that day.

She won’t go to the gas station alone. She used to hang out with friends on the weekends, but now her days consist of going to work and coming home.

On the rare occasions she decides to go out to lunch with her sister, Bolton said she was always nervous and looked around. If she hears people talking about guns or starting to argue, she becomes anxious and upset and leaves the room in fear of being shot again.

“It’s very unfair, but whatever it takes for me to still be here on Earth, I will do it because I don’t wish death on anyone, crimes or anything on anyone. No one deserves to getting shot. No one deserves any of this,” she said. “It’s more death after death and more shooting and killing. I just wish they would stop.”

At 10 p.m. Monday, 13 investigators will share the story of another gunshot victim as part of our investigation into the mental and physical cost of shootings. Tune in to hear from Houston police about how many of the city’s thousands of shootings are solved each year.

For the latest investigations, follow Ted Oberg on Facebook, Twitter and instagram.

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