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Charlotte Doctor Believes Meeting People's Needs Will Help Curb Violence

Atrium Health
Erin Keever

Violent crime in Charlotte has risen nearly 5% compared to this time last year. That's according to Charlotte-Mecklenburg police statistics.

Three-year-old Asiah Figueroa shot to death a week ago, one victim in a string of shootings. They are described as "absolutely senseless" by police Chief Johnny Jennings as his department, community groups and health officials seek ways to stop the violence.

In February, Atrium Health announced a partnership with the city of Charlotte on a violence intervention program that involves working with emergency room gunshot patients to find ways to prevent them from being repeat victims or perpetrators of violence. Statistics show that 25% of them end up that way within two to three years. Dr. David Jacobs, who oversees Atrium's program, joins WFAE's "All Things Considered" host, Gwendolyn Glenn, with an update.

Dr. David Jacobs: The goal is to try and identify what those factors are that led to their being assaulted, being injured in a violent manner, and see if there are some modifiable factors that we can take advantage of to prevent them from either becoming violence victims again or even violent perpetrators. It's essentially doing an inventory of where they are in their lives. Do they need education? Do they need health care or do they need food? Do they need housing? Do they need anger management? Just any number of things that these patients find themselves lacking that contribute to interpersonal violence.

Gwendolyn Glenn: When we talked back in February, as you were getting started, your goal was to have someone available 24/7 in the emergency room and you were going to have at least two violence prevention coordinators hired by this summer. Where are you in terms of building that team for this violence prevention program?

Jacobs: Well, we've almost got the team entirely built. We're not open for business yet, unfortunately. But we hired our first interventionalist/program coordinator a couple of weeks ago. We are about to hire our second person probably later this week. We hope to be able to officially begin seeing patients either towards the beginning or middle of October.

Glenn: What about training? Because I remember you said that they would have to have specific types of training. Where are you in terms of that?

Jacobs: We have already begun the training of our leadership staff, but the training really needs to be almost institution-wide. Obviously, these two new people have to be trained in trauma-informed care. They have to be very familiar with the resources that are available in the community and probably most importantly, begin to establish relationships with those agencies so that we can follow these patients long term.

We're probably looking at somewhere between 20 and 30 hours of direct person-to-person online training. The organization that's going to do that is called the Health Alliance for Violence Intervention. It really is about being able to establish a relationship quickly, but being able to carry out that relationship, we think for probably maybe even a year or more.

Glenn: The city of Charlotte recently launched an Alternatives to Violence program that uses interrupters to stem the spread of violence, doing things like mediating conflicts, some of the same things that you're talking about here. Are there plans to work with the city on their program, with the hospital's program?

Jacobs: Absolutely. The city's program is initially going to be restricted to certain ZIP codes of certain neighborhoods. And being the level one trauma center, we see patients from South Carolina that are transferred up here. And so we will work with the city to the extent that there is overlap. But we also recognize that there will be patients because of where they live who will not benefit from that program. And we recognize that we need to serve them as well.

Glenn: Well, so far this year, there have been at least 65 homicides in Charlotte, and CMPD reported in July ... a 66% increase in the number of firearms stolen in the first half of the year. I'm wondering, how are those numbers playing out in your emergency room? Because I know, like you said, last year, you had over 700 victims come to the emergency room who had been shot. How is that playing out right now? Do you have any numbers?

Jacobs: I don't have exact numbers for you, but I can tell you that we are busier than we were last year. We really don't understand this. We think part of it is related to the COVID pandemic. Everyone knows that there was a significant increase in gun purchasing — legal gun purchasing — in the aftermath or in the early period of time following COVID. And we're probably 10% higher than we were in 2019.

Glenn: And looking at this, what is the first thing that you want to do once your program is up and running? And just last week, a 3-year-old was a victim. Hearing stories like that, ss it changing anything about how you are putting this program together?

Jacobs: No, I don't think so. I think that what this tells us is that this needs to be an all-hands-on-deck emergency for the community. We're going to do our part as the health care community. Above and beyond that, we have to work with all the other partners, our law enforcement partners, our school system, our business community, the judicial system, the faith community. Everybody has a role. And, you know, one of my concerns about our program is that folks will think that this is going to be the solution to Charlotte's violence problem. And so that's why I say it's all hands on deck.

Glenn: And have you thought about how you plan to measure success?

Jacobs: We will do the regular demographics. We will be able to very accurately measure the number of lives that we've touched — not just patients, but their families. And we will have measures of people's engagement in violence. But again, the hope is that this is going to spread to the family, to the community, to the school system, whatever it may be, such that our impact is beyond what we can measure.

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