A former Johnstown pediatrician and health care leader is calling on colleagues and medical organizations to demand action following Saturday’s mass shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh.
“I am very, very sad about the synagogue shooting,” Dr. Matthew Masiello said in a telephone interview from Leominster, Massachusetts.
“This hit home in so many ways, this terrible massacre. I worked right across the street from the synagogue when I was in Pittsburgh.”
Now a clinical professor of pediatrics at the University of Massachusetts Memorial Children’s Medical Center and chief of pediatrics at the university’s Health-Alliance Hospital in Leominster, Masiello spent nearly two decades in the Johnstown region before returning to his home state.
He was vice president for community health at Conemaugh Health System, and later served as chief medical officer at Windber Research Institute. He founded the Child and Adolescent Health and Wellness Council of Cambria County, which as become the Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention.
In 2014, Masiello was named chief medical officer at The Children’s Institute in Pittsburgh. The Institute and the synagogue are located on adjacent corners of the intersection of Shady and Wilkins avenues in Pittsburgh’s Squirrel Hill neighborhood.
“They talk about the diversity of that community,” Masiello said. “It really is a wonderfully diverse community.”
The latest incident is even more personal because a psychiatrist Masiello hired for The Children’s Institute lost his best friend in Saturday’s shooting, Masiello said.
But Masiello’s interest in gun violence began even before he came to Johnstown in the late 1990s. He and Dr. Michael Hirsch started one of the nations’ first gun buy-back programs in 1994 in Pittsburgh when both were working at Allegheny General Hospital.
“When politicians come in there and say it’s not a firearms issue, they are lying,” Masiello said. “We proved that reducing the number of firearms would make a difference.”
The doctors’ research showing the reduction in gun-related injuries and deaths related to the gun buy-back was accepted and presented in the scientific community, he said.
Masiello has his own personal experience with firearm injuries. His son, Jason, was hit in the arm with a bullet while playing soccer when he was
5 years old. Lawrence Lampel Jr. was arrested and pleaded guilty to simple assault, reckless endangerment and four game-law violations after the June 2006 incident at the field in Conemaugh Township, Somerset County.
Lampel told police he was shooting at chipmunks on the hill above the field.
“The perpetrator did not have a firearms license,” Masiello wrote Monday in his appeal for action. “He was shooting chipmunks and did not notice the dozens of children down the hill playing soccer.”
Masiello is calling on the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Medical Association to take a stand and support candidates willing to address access to firearms.
He stresses that he is not calling for excessive gun control for law-abiding citizens, noting that his time in Cambria and Somerset counties brought him close to many considered to be the conservative base.
“I’ve talked to a lot of people in Johnstown,” he said.
“Johnstown represents, really, the nation. The people in Johnstown don’t believe these high-powered rifles should be available to just anybody who wants to have a high-powered rifle.
“The Second Amendment needs to be supported, but with incredible responsibility.”
Masiello hosted a community forum in Johnstown following the Dec. 14, 2012, shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut. He presented results of a community survey showing most of the those responding reported they own guns, but an even larger majority support tightened regulations.
“The country wants better gun regulations. Period,” he said.
Medical organizations have a duty to speak out for changes to help their patients avoid injury and death, Masiello said.
“Politicians are frozen in time,” he said. “That’s why we need pediatric providers to get out and talk to these parents about the health of their children and how the health of their children is being affected by these decisions.”