City hospitals and universities collaborate on violence prevention

ST. LOUIS - Several St. Louis area hospitals and universities are forming a unique partnership to stop the cycle of violence and save young lives.

St. Louis had one of it’s most violent years in decades, with more than 200 gun related deaths last year. So far this year, police have investigated 18 homicides.

Which is why the city's research universities and hospitals, including Washington University, St. Louis University, Barnes-Jewish Hospital, SSM Health Saint Louis University Hospital, St. Louis Children’s Hospital, and SSM Health Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital are taking steps to reduce such deaths.

“The hospitals are a place where you have what we call a teachable moment," said Dr. William Powderly, director of the Institute for Public Health at Washington University. “It’s a time when somebody is a victim of violence, they survived that episode and they have a moment where they can think about what’s happened and perhaps change what they are going to do.”

The violence prevention program is an extension of what’s already being practiced at Children’s Hospital. The current hospital program provides services such as therapy to young children who are dealing with the after-effects of the trauma they have experienced.

“We have watched kids die for years and we fix the medical problem, but it isn’t fixing the social problem,” said Margie Batek, supervisor of social work at St. Louis Children’s Hospital.

She said that many of these children have witnessed an act of some kind of violence that sometimes involves a loved one, such as a parent or a caretaker.

“We’ve had such good rates of success with it that none of our children have come back that have completed our program for inner personal violence,” Batek continued. “So Washington University was interested and working on a program that would attack the problem throughout the city.”

The St. Louis hospital and university-based Violence Intervention Program is planned to begin this summer. It will offer medical treatment and therapy to reduce deaths and new injuries among gunshot, stabbing, and assault victims.

“This is a problem all across the country,” Powderly said. “What you have is young people getting access to guns and shooting each other and it escalating to if somebody is shot and they survived they or their friends want to retaliate and you get a cycle going.”

Researchers said that medical professionals are handling such cases in emergency rooms on a daily basis which can be extraordinarily stressful.

“Part of what we are doing is not only trying to help our own community by reducing the impact of this but also allowing people who have to deal with the consequences on an everyday basis have an opportunity to say I can also be involved in the prevention,” Powderly said.

Batek said researchers are now working on launching a mentoring program for parents whose children have been involved in inner personal violence.

For available resources on organizations focused on reducing gun violence, visit www.publichealth.wustl.edu/gunviolence. For more formation on the youth metro program, contact Batek at meb0701@bjc.org or call 314-454-2376.