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Violence intervention specialists hired at Hartford, CT, hospitals hope to break cycles of violence

Renee Beavers, LMSW Hospital-based Violence Intervention Program (HVIP) Specialist
Tyler Russell
Connecticut Public
Renee Beavers, a violence intervention specialist at Connecticut Children’s, says she is seeing children as young as 8 show up at the ER with gunshot wounds.

Three Hartford-area hospitals have hired violence intervention specialists this year with funding through the federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA). Nationally, firearm-related deaths among children and young people rose 28% during the pandemic from 2019 to 2020, the latest data show.

“There is an epidemic of firearm injuries in the United States right now,” Dr. James Dodington, medical director of the Center for Injury and Violence Prevention at Yale New Haven Health, said at a November gun buyback event in Hartford. “For the first time, firearms are the leading cause of death for children and adolescents in the U.S. and has surpassed motor vehicle injuries.”

At Hartford Hospital, Dr. Charles Johndro, medical director of Emergency Medical Services, is concerned by “an uptick in gun violence” in the area.

In response, administrators hired David Crump, a violence intervention program coordinator with lived experience and an understanding of the factors behind gun violence. “And he’s been really instrumental in breaking down some of the barriers that exist with the families in talking about these things, and making sure they feel supported,” said Johndro, a member of the state Commission on Community Gun Violence Intervention and Prevention. “And that's been a great asset.”

Like Crump, Sumay Clark, a violence intervention specialist at Saint Francis Hospital, taps into her lived experience to help survivors of violent crimes heal and even thrive.

“Since I’ve been here, I have not seen one youth return,” Clark said. “And I think that’s because of the relationship that we build with these youth. Just checking in with Mom and finding out what’s going on, and if anything new arises, these parents call us.”

The hospital’s violence intervention team also consists of Carolyn Alessi, Clark’s supervisor, who collaborates with other hospital teams. They are collecting data on outcomes.

“Our goal is to not have our patients who come in with violence-related injuries reenter into our hospital system with those same injuries,” Alessi said.

The youth survivors are connected with nonprofits, including the Compass Youth Collaborative, that offer alternative programs to students who dropped out of school and while away the day at local parks, running into trouble with gangs. They also move the families out of high-crime neighborhoods and offer therapy for trauma.

Renee Beavers, a violence intervention specialist at Connecticut Children’s, is seeing children as young as 8 years old show up at the ER with gunshot wounds.

“I get families from New Britain, families from Waterbury, families from Hartford,” she said. “An 8-year-old who was just being called in for dinner, and was part of a crossfire. The majority of our families do live in areas that may have higher crime rates, or they may be involved in something that may make them more prone to violent acts. You know, if you're in an area that’s high-prone to violence, you do want to move.”

Beavers is at the child’s bedside, connecting with them and “trying to minimize this ever happening to them again,” she said. “We want to change the trajectory of their lives.”

She taps into area nonprofits, including Hartford Communities That Care, to offer what victims need – whether it’s financial assistance to move to a safer, better neighborhood or food for the family.

Beavers acknowledged that this work is already being done in the community.

“But the missing link is how do we get to them, right? I have this thing I like to call the golden hour, like once this child comes into the hospital,” she said. “And if we can get bedside, they will more likely take services, right?”

Since her appointment in April, Beavers said she has not seen a child come back with a reinjury.

Stop the Bleed 

Trauma surgeon Len Jacobs was the director of the trauma center at Hartford Hospital when he got a call from Newtown in 2012. “We put our helicopters on response,” he said. “But shortly afterwards, we were told to stand down because there were no live patients. And that had a very profound effect on me.”

Jacobs, his Hartford-area colleagues and the American College of Surgeons – Jacobs was a board member – developed a program in collaboration with White House national security and the FBI.

Stop the Bleed is an hour-long lesson that trains the public to stop injured people from bleeding. “And now there are bleeding control kits in pretty much most big airports and public places in schools,” Jacobs said. “And we've trained over 2.5 million people in 134 countries. And there are over 100,000 instructors who educate the public on how to stop [wounds from] bleeding.”

Jacobs said most victims had sustained injuries from a kitchen knife, chain saw, a fall or a motorcycle or car crash.

“Every day, people are getting significant lacerations,” he said. “And what happens is the public or loved one doesn’t know what to do. So they watch and call 911. And in the meantime, you’re losing a phenomenal amount of blood. And if you can stop that bleeding, you have an incredibly high chance of saving your limb or saving your life.”

Congress is considering a bill – the Prevent Blood Loss with Emergency Equipment Devices Act – that aims to provide states with funding to expand access to bleeding control kits in public places.

Sujata Srinivasan is Connecticut Public Radio’s senior health reporter. Prior to that, she was a senior producer for Where We Live, a newsroom editor, and from 2010-2014, a business reporter for the station.
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