Study focuses on clinicians’ roles in extreme-risk petitions

Study focuses on clinicians’ roles in extreme-risk petitions

Health providers have a crucial part in the legal process to restrict a person’s access to firearms, researchers say.

By: Alexandra de Leon Date: April 19th, 2021

A newly published study examines the role of healthcare and social service professionals when a court order is requested that would bar an individual in Washington state from possessing a firearm for one year.

Washington state law allows citizens to file a formal request for an Extreme Risk Protection Order (ERPO), which asks a judge to temporarily restrict an individual’s access to firearms, out of concern that the individual is at extreme risk of harming themselves, others, or both. ERPOs’ intent is to reduce firearm injuries and deaths.

University of Washington researchers examined the responses of healthcare, mental health, and social service professionals when contacted by an ERPO petitioner, such as a family member or law enforcement officer.

The study was published this month in the Journal of the Society for Social Work & Research.

“As health professionals are not able to file ERPOs for their clients or patients in Washington state, we conducted this study to understand the process of ERPO filing when health professionals are involved but can’t file independently,” says Kelsey Conrick, MPH, a trainee at UW Medicine’s Harborview Injury Prevention & Research Center and doctoral student at the UW School of Social Work.

The researchers analyzed ERPO records from courts in each Washington county from Dec. 8, 2016, to May 10, 2019. Out of 237 ERPO petitions filed during this time, 24 involved a health professional.

The study found differences in how health professionals and law enforcement officials evaluate an individual’s extreme risk of harm. Variation was seen in the methods of conducting a risk assessment, in access to, and knowledge about, factors that contribute to an individual’s risk, and in the interpretation and response to described behaviors.

“In particular, we found when respondents had an established mental health provider, that provider was most likely to know about individual’s history, risk and protective factors, and effective strategies to support the person in crisis,” says Megan Moore, PhD, MSW, a UW associate professor of social work. “Including these providers in the ERPO process is crucial because they have the most information about respondents.”

Some states allow health professionals to file ERPOs independently, as with family members or law enforcement officials, Conrick noted.

“More work is needed to understand whether and how health professionals want to be involved in the ERPO process,” she said.

This study is part of HIPRC’s Firearm Injury & Policy Research Program. The program’s mission is to reduce the impact of firearm injury and death on people’s lives through interdisciplinary research and collaboration with institutional, community, and governmental partners.

This work was funded by the State of Washington.

Other authors on this work include, Adam Davis, MSW, University of Washington School of Social Work, Lauren Rooney, MPH, Harborview Injury Prevention & Research Center, M. Alex Bellenger, Harborview Injury Prevention & Research Center, Frederick Rivara, MD, MPH, Firearm Injury & Policy Research Program (FIPRP) Director and Department of Pediatrics with the University of Washington School of Medicine, and Ali Rowhani-Rahbar, MD, PhD, MPH, FIPRP Co-Director and Associate Professor of Epidemiology at the University of Washington School of Public Health.