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Atrium Health's Violence Intervention program aims to curb youth violence

Atrium Health
Erin Keever

In partnership with the city of Charlotte, Atrium Health created a violence intervention program more than a year ago that begins in an unexpected place—the emergency room. The goal of the program is to provide victims they treat with whatever services they need to prevent them from becoming a repeat victim or perpetrator of violence. The program has a team of three at the hospital with two of them being available after hours by phone when needed 24/7.

This year, Charlotte police say nearly 500 juveniles have been victims of gun-related crimes. Program coordinator Brittney Brown says that age group is a big focus of the violence intervention program.

Brittney Brown: We are focusing on individuals between the ages of 14 to about 24. We go to 25 and above in special cases, but 24 is usually our cutoff. You have to be admitted to the hospital for some sort of penetrating violent trauma, whether that be a gunshot wound, a stabbing or an assault with a blunt object.

It can even be a fight. We often see sometimes fights that were detrimental enough to get you hospitalized. And it can't be anything self-inflicted and nothing human trafficking or domestic, because we have programs within the hospital that work specifically with those criteria.

So we ask them things like, are they safe at home? Do they have enough food where they are? Are they comfortable going back to the place where they live? Are they currently in school? So the questionnaire is based on figuring out where the gaps are in their lives so we can help them create some avenues to fill those holes.

Gwendolyn Glenn: Well, let me ask you this. These are gunshot victims. How quickly are you able to ask these questions of them? How does that work?

Brown: So when we first meet with the patients, we don't go straight into the questionnaire. We want to build a relationship with them first and foremost. Sometimes they are, you know, intubated, they're still sleeping or they're still in surgeries. So we develop relationships with the family and friends that are in the hospital. And we give it maybe a day or so before we do the social determinants of health because we want them to understand that this is relationship building and the questions are simply built to help them in the long run.

Glenn: What kind of follow-up do you have and do you have to provide long-term counseling or long-term services to them to kind of make sure that somebody doesn't retaliate against them or they don't retaliate against the person who shot them?

Brown: We don't have to take anyone off of our caseload at all at any point. They can contact us. They can call us for up to six months. But we have already gone over our six-month marker and we've seen that we're still holding on to a lot of our individuals for support. And they've also, you know, expressed new needs after that six months.

We're learning as they heal physically, their needs become a little bit more obvious. You know, when they first get out, they just want to heal. They want to get better. So it's really important for us to stick with them as long as they need.

Glenn: And what new needs are they coming to you with?

Brown: Focus on finishing school. If they're out of school, they want to focus on career training. A lot of our folks want trades, so we are referring a lot to trades right now.

Glenn: And you say they can reach out to you. Someone is available 24 hours? Because a lot of these shootings, I'm sure, are happening in the wee hours of the night.

Brown: So, as we are growing the program and we are letting everyone in the hospital know about the program, we always let them know to contact us at any time of the day or night.

Glenn: Tell me, can you give me a story of a person who came in and tell me how you guys helped them and how they're doing?

Brown: Most recently, we had a young man, 17. He was about to be homeless. He actually got shot on school grounds. It was after school and his aunt was in the hospital and was very frustrated and she was fearing for her safety and his as well. And we reached out to the Mecklenburg County's violence prevention office immediately, and they gave us a couple of names for some organizations that helped teenage boys specifically. Within 24 hours, we had a referral done for him.

We had a counselor who came and spoke with his aunt. The aunt agreed to do counseling with him while he was in the hospital. From there, she became a lot more comfortable bringing him into the house. They were able to follow him on his journey home and provide him with services and also connect him with services within his school. So now he's doing all right.

Glenn: Do you have any information in terms of the success rate with this program?

Brown: Our main goals for the program are to reduce recidivism. As it stands. If anyone has come back into the hospital that we've seen, it's been due to health reasons. They've not come back for violent traumas.

Glenn: Anything else you want to add that I didn't ask you? Where do you see this program going over the next six months, next year?

Brown: I think the next phase for the program is to continue our community connections. A big part of what I want to do is have direct relationships with community organizations so we can continue our warm handoffs for our individuals. We want to make sure that when we are providing them services with specific organizations, that we know exactly who they're going to and what they're going for. You know, it's easy to hand them a piece of paper. Just tell them to go fill this out. But that's not what we want to do.

We want it to be personal, and we want them to know that we care about them individually. And that starts with us developing those relationships. So that's where we'll go forward and hopefully more staff and we're looking forward to growing.

Brittney Brown is the program coordinator of Atrium Health's violence intervention program.

Gwendolyn is an award-winning journalist who has covered a broad range of stories on the local and national levels. Her experience includes producing on-air reports for National Public Radio and she worked full-time as a producer for NPR’s All Things Considered news program for five years. She worked for several years as an on-air contract reporter for CNN in Atlanta and worked in print as a reporter for the Baltimore Sun Media Group, The Washington Post and covered Congress and various federal agencies for the Daily Environment Report and Real Estate Finance Today. Glenn has won awards for her reports from the Maryland-DC-Delaware Press Association, SNA and the first-place radio award from the National Association of Black Journalists.