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Hospital violence intervention helps heal community wounds

Temple University Hospital
Posted at 11:36 AM, Nov 18, 2022

PHILADELPHIA, Penn. — Support has the power of turning a person's life around.

That's why Sadiqa Lucas works in the emergency department.

"This is a safe haven for the patients," she said.

She's not a doctor but is still a lifeline for the gun violence victims who enter the trauma bay at Temple University Hospital in north Philadelphia, a neighborhood where it's hard to find the kind of support that leads to opportunities.

"The majority of the trauma here, it just happened. Their bodies are shaking; they're nervous. Some of them don't feel safe immediately, but just providing that extra layer of support goes a long way," she said.

Lucas is a Trauma Victim Advocate. She meets gunshot victims who come to the ED at their bedside, helping to open them up to opportunities outside of the world of violence they had been pulled into, hooking them up with services like mental healthcare, housing, and education.

"What we recognize about the violence that is occurring in our neighborhoods is it's because there's so much hurt, so much pain there's so much trauma collectively in the community," said Scott Charles, the manager of the Trauma Outreach Team at Temple.

About a decade ago, Charles started the trauma outreach program. He and his hospital colleagues saw a chance that engaging with victims at the hospital could help break the cycle of getting pulled further into violent crime. The key, he says, is being consistent.

"If we don't do that, if we don't show up and prove ourselves to them, they feel very alienated. They feel very isolated, and they're alone. And it's in that context that they begin thinking about ways of retaliating, how to regain some of what they feel they lost out there in terms of their reputation," said Charles.

This type of outreach is called a Hospital-Based Violence Intervention Program, or HVIP and the model has proven to be effective, both for victims and the hospital's bottom line.

There are 34 HVIP programs in 19 states, two of which were created last year.

An evaluation of the very first HVIP in Oakland, California, found that clients were 70% less likely to be arrested and 60% less likely to be involved in a gang.

It was also found to save $750,000 to $1.5 million in hospital and incarceration costs.

Dr. Amy Goldberg is the dean of the medical school at Temple as well as a trauma surgeon. She's an advocate for these kinds of programs, pushing for changes to the status quo approach to violence. She believes the roles that doctors and hospitals can play to help solve the complex issue of gun violence is crucial.

"It is our role in the hospital to educate, to protect our patients, and protect our community," she said.

"When we look at neighborhoods where you have tremendous levels of violence, tremendous amounts of trauma, an absurd amount of unemployment, we're talking about the social determinants of health and how would do we address this, as a hospital, and then how do we use this opportunity, these encounters that we have with these individuals to change the calculus in the neighborhood," said Charles.

By offering this kind of support and consistency, this team says they are not only going beyond treating patients, but they are treating entire communities.

"It's a mission. It's definitely more than just a calling. I'm supposed to be here, the team is supposed to be here," said Lucas.