To break the cycle of violence, embed violence intervention teams in hospitals

Some hospitals are taking an unusual approach to stop the street violence that’s driving the same victims to cycle in and out of their emergency rooms. Instead of simply treating the patients’ injuries and sending them back out, the hospitals are assigning violence prevention specialists to counsel them about peaceful ways to resolve conflict, defuse tensions, and talk them out of retaliatory attacks.

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Photo: Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. Credit: Philadelphia Magazine.

The results and feedback so far are promising. At Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore and Truman Medical Center Hospital Hill in Kansas City, Missouri, these trained “violence interrupters” include those who’ve gone through similar experiences with violence—making them better able to relate to the victims and even settle neighborhood disputes. The Kansas City program, which began in 2008 and now partners with 45 organizations, is credited as helping to lower the number of homicides by 28% from 2010 to 2014. In Baltimore, the city health department is now seeking to take the pilot program at Johns Hopkins Hospital citywide. The Violence Intervention Program (VIP) at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia goes even further to stay involved in their young at-risk patients’ lives for as long as a year.

More research studies are likely forthcoming on the programs’ outcomes, but what evidence exists today on the hospital-based violence intervention strategy is encouraging. And as this doctor’s explanation to NPR suggests, there’s good reason why more hospitals should try the approach in the first place:

Dr. William Jaquis, chief of emergency medicine at Baltimore’s Sinai Hospital, notes that hospitals are already spending a great deal of money on the treatment of violent injuries.

“We can look at the people who are victims of violence, and we can treat them four to six times, and obviously it’s got a tremendous cost to us,” he says. “The first time may be a blunt injury, a strike to the head. The next time may be a knife, and the next time may be a gunshot wound. I think what we find is we spend the resources anyway. And so it’s starting to look at how we spend them.”

For more information, see “Baltimore Sees Hospitals As Key To Breaking A Cycle Of Violence,” NPR (2016); “Are Doctors the Key to Ending Philly Gun Violence?” Philadelphia Magazine (2016); “Some Hospitals Boost Health by Preventing Violence,” US News & World Report (2015); and “Anti-violence groups, hospitals work to try and stop homicides, which have negative impacts on both the community and bottom lines,” Modern Healthcare (2009).