Health groups press Justice Department to stop attacks aimed at children's hospitals, doctors

They want Attorney General Merrick Garland to stop threats targeting providers of gender-affirming healthcare. Social media platforms also must curb the rhetoric that incites threats and attacks, they said.

With more doctors being assaulted and targeted, three major health groups are urging the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate the threats of violence aimed at physicians and children's hospitals.

The American Academy of Pediatrics, American Medical Association, and Children’s Hospital Association sent a joint letter Monday to U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland. They urged the attorney general to take action to stop the disturbing rise in threats and violence aimed at doctors, hospitals and families for providing and seeking gender-affirming healthcare.

“We write to urge you to investigate the organizations, individuals, and entities coordinating, provoking, and carrying out bomb threats and threats of personal violence against children’s hospitals and physicians across the U.S.,” the letter states.

The health groups are also pressing social media platforms to stop the spread of misinformation and rhetoric that incites threats of violence aimed at children’s hospitals and physicians. They called on Twitter, TikTok and Meta, the owner of Facebook and Instagram, to take steps to stop the coordinated spread of disinformation.

Moira Szilagyi, president of the American Academy of Pediatrics, implored federal authorities to take action.

“Whether it’s newborns receiving intensive care, children getting cancer treatments or families accessing compassionate care for their transgender adolescents, all patients seeking treatment deserve to get the care they need without fear for their personal safety,” Szilagyi said in a statement.

“We cannot stand by as threats of violence against our members and their patients proliferate with little consequence," she said.

Amy Wimpey Knight, president of the Children’s Hospital Association, said the group is seeking “to prevent misleading and inflammatory comments that result in threats to those caring for patients.”

“We are committed to providing safe, supportive and inclusive health care environments for each and every child and family, and the clinicians and staff who are dedicated to caring for children,” Knight said in the statement. “Threats and acts of violence are not a solution, nor a substitute, for civil dialogue about issues of a child or teen’s health and wellbeing.”

The health groups state that the attacks are disrupting patient care. Threats aimed at Boston Children’s Hospital have drawn national attention, but the organizations said these attacks, fueled by disinformation on social media, are occurring around the country.

“From Boston to Akron to Nashville to Seattle, children's hospitals, academic health systems, and physicians are being targeted and threatened for providing evidence-based health care,” the letter stated. “These attacks have not only made it difficult and dangerous for institutions and practices to provide this care, they have also disrupted many other services to families seeking care.”

“Children’s hospitals and their medical staffs continue to face increased threats via social media – including to their personal accounts. Coupled with harassing emails, phone calls, and protestors at health care sites, there is elevated and justifiable fear among families, patients, and staff,” the letter stated.

Jack Resneck Jr., president of the AMA, said the organization will work with federal authorities to protect doctors.

“Individuals in all workplaces have the right to a safe environment, out of harm’s way and free of intimidation or reprisal,” Resneck said in a statement. “As physicians, we condemn groups that promote hate-motivated intolerance and toxic misinformation that can lead to grave real-world violence and extremism and jeopardize patients' health outcomes.”

The groups represent more than 270,000 doctors and more than 220 children’s hospitals.

Children’s hospitals are being forced to increase security measures, the groups said.

Doctors and hospital leaders have denounced the rise in violence aimed at physicians, which they say has risen during the pandemic.

Most emergency doctors have reported rising violence, and they say the attacks are driving doctors and nurses out of emergency medicine. They also say it is impeding their ability to care for patients. When hospital staff must subdue an attacker, wait times in the emergency department grow longer.