Hospital-based violence intervention can break cycle of harm


Youth Alive!’s lead intervention specialist Guadalupe Serrano-Lopez with a client. Photo courtesy of Youth Alive!

(NewsNation) — A bullet derailed Paris Davis’ professional sports aspirations. In 2017, he was 22, had played college basketball and was preparing to turn pro and move to Australia when he was shot during a robbery.

“Where I’m from, if somebody hurts you, you hurt them back, right?” he said.

Sitting in a hospital in Oakland, he was thinking about revenge. Then, Davis was referred to the local organization Youth ALIVE!, which works to both interrupt acts of violence and intervene to support victims of violence after they are hurt.

Its program, Caught in the Crossfire, was one of the first in the country to do what’s called “hospital-based violence intervention,” which involves meeting with victims of violence, often at their hospital bedside, to help them escape the urge to retaliate and provide services that will help them recover.

“I had a life coach, intervention specialist come to my home and kind of start talking to me about the services,” Davis said.

The program connected him with resources for crime victims that helped him cover his medical bills and assembled a plan to complete his Bachelor’s Degree.

Eventually, he earned a Master’s and decided to give back to the organization that helped him. He started as an intern with Youth ALIVE! and worked his way up to his current position of intervention director.

Today, similar hospital-based violence intervention programs are active across the country. Unlike street-based violence interruption programs that seek to resolve disputes that can lead to immediate violence, hospital-based programs are designed to heal someone who recently suffered from violence (the cover of Youth ALIVE’s annual report states that “healed people heal people“).

“We try to have our frontline workers meet the patients as soon as possible in the hospital,” said Kyle Fischer, an emergency physician and the policy director at The Health Alliance for Violence Intervention, which advocates for hospital-based violence intervention.

Fischer explained the interventions involve a sustained level of support for those harmed.

“It’s everything from medical care to case management. Whether that’s jobs, education all those things. And then work with them for the next six months to a year, sometimes longer, to make sure that we’re going upstream and addressing all the social determinants of health,” he said.

In June 2019, University Hospitals Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital in Cleveland launched the Antifragility Initiative to help the youngest survivors of violence.

Matthew Krock, a trauma social worker who runs coordinates the initiative, jumped at the chance to get involved with the program because of all of the violence he had seen in the city.

“(I) always felt kind of limited in my ability to really help people in those positions just because my role was basically to serve them just during their time at the hospital which is usually pretty short. The relationship began and ended at the door,” he said.

The initiative gave him the opportunity to help provide a broader range of services to young people who had been harmed — like screening them for food insecurity or getting them involved in arts programs.

One of his clients was a 15-year-old boy, initially treated for a gunshot wound. Krock provided him and his dad — a single father — with counseling for longer-lasting problems like the teen’s substance abuse following his trauma.

Early research on hospital-based violence intervention has found that programs can reduce the risk of re-injury for those who receive interventions. One study followed 188 minors and adults in Chicago after they were violently injured. People who received services through hospital-based violence intervention were less likely to report being a victim of violence in the six months after their treatment.

But Fischer stressed that not everyone who could benefit from an intervention is in a healthcare setting.

“The biggest limitation is that you need to meet people where they’re at,” he said, adding that some people in need of help will be out in communities or in the criminal justice system.

“It’s not a one-size fits all approach but there are multiple complimentary things you need to do,” he said.

In Davis’s case, the shooting left him “hopeless and lost.” He credits the intervention with helping him find his way after tragedy struck.

“I never was really…academically good in school. So being able to have someone just kind of walk me through that process and kind of just inspire me from their stories, right, similar stories, it helped me,” he also said.

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