Lawmakers and advocates are prepared to make gun violence a central issue for the State of the Union, according to many bloggers and journalists. Whether or not the issue takes center stage, many of us await new information from President Obama on plans to prevent gun violence nationwide.

We at NAPH have the unique perspective of being a singular voice for providers across the nation who deliver mental health services to the underserved. Our member hospitals and health systems also are often the only level I trauma centers (or trauma centers of any kind) in many communities, meaning they play a pivotal role in caring for victims of gun violence and in helping prevent its occurrence. For instance, NAPH member Grady Health in Atlanta notes it is the second-largest provider of mental health services in Georgia, behind the state prison system.

Yet, it is important to note that strained resources have forced many of our member hospitals and communities to cut back on mental health services. Despite challenging financial circumstances, much of our membership has successfully maintained inpatient psychiatric capacity across the past 5 years, and some are even increasing capacity to make up for other closures or consolidations in their area. While our members’ ability to shoulder much of the mental health care in their communities is remarkable, budget constraints have taken a greater toll on outpatient care.

Reports include reductions in mental health beds in emergency department extension programs, closure of a comprehensive psychiatric emergency program, and closure of a community-based mental health clinic and continuing day treatment program. What’s more, the pressure put on safety net hospitals by state and local funding cuts is causing capacity and service level issues.

In 2005 (the latest data available from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), the U.S. spent more than $571 million in total medical costs for firearm-related hospitalizations.

Add to that more than $28 million in total medical costs for those people taken to the emergency department (ED) and released (as opposed to admitted) as a consequence of firearm-related injuries, and we are at close to $600 million in medical costs related to firearm injuries.

The price tag is significant, when NAPH member hospitals are treating more and more patients with less and less resources. This shift in balance places even greater strain on existing capacity, with repercussions like delaying mental health care for others in need.

As we listen to President Obama and await legislation to mitigate gun violence nationwide, keep in mind the stories of physicians, nurses, parents, and NAPH member hospitals innovating to protect communities from the aftermath of gun violence. These stories underscore the need for greater mental health support at the federal level, as well as greater need for violence intervention programs.

To that end, we are hosting a series of guest blog entries from people on the front lines of care and administration spearheading programs such as Caught in the Crossfire in Los Angeles and the Wraparound Project in San Francisco. Share these stories in your communities and with your legislators. Show our leaders that members of our communities care about violence prevention.

And then join us on Feb. 27th at 2p ET for an online chat discussing gun violence prevention and mental health care via Twitter with the hashtag #NAPH.

We look forward to connecting on this important issue and hearing more in response to the State of the Union and President Obama’s plan, Now is the Time.