‘We Are Still Going to Be Here’: Supporting Victims of Community Violence
In their role as violence recovery advocates at BWH, Masika Gadson and Rahsaan Peters work to support victims of community violence treated at BWH, even after discharge from the hospital.
The advocates are part of the Center for Community Health and Health Equity’s (CCHHE) Violence Recovery Program, which provides comprehensive resources to patients admitted to BWH after experiencing violence, as well as to referred members of the community at risk of becoming a victim of violence or who have previously experienced it. The program is a collaboration between the CCHHE and BWH’s Division of Trauma, Burn and Surgical Critical Care.
Gadson and Peters are paged if a victim of violence is admitted to the BWH Emergency Department. If a patient is willing to speak with the advocates, the advocates begin an ongoing conversation about the events that led the patient to be affected by violence and connect them with support they need at BWH and beyond.
The advocates set up safety plans to help keep patients safe as they transition back into the community after discharge. But their work doesn’t end there. They reach out to support groups and attend court hearings, housing appointments and job interviews with patients. They have even picked up groceries in the past. Individually, each of these acts may seem like small gestures, but they add up and equate to large improvements in the safety and quality of life of Boston residents and families.
“We are like a bridge,” said Gadson. “We want to make people feel welcome, even if they are denying the service we provide. We tell them, ‘If you change your mind, we are still going to be here.’”
Additionally, the advocates meet with residents of Boston’s neighborhoods who have not directly experienced violence but who might need support and advice.
“It helps to be recognized in the community as someone who provides many different kinds of support,” said Peters. “The rewarding thing about our job is that we have the opportunity to really help people.”
At the heart of Gadson and Peters’ work is relationship-building, which provides a better chance of follow-up after patients go home, says Mardi Chadwick, JD, director of Violence Intervention and Prevention Programs for the CCHHE. The duo’s extensive background assisting high-risk youth and families over the years has helped them make connections across the city and build trust with the people they serve, which totals 170 people this past year, a 60 percent increase from 2015.
“Having a program dedicated to recovery from trauma acknowledges violence as a public health issue,” said Chadwick. “It is essential for health care providers to understand the connection between violence and health and well-being.”
Violence Recovery Program manager David Crump, who started this work five years ago when the program first launched, credits close partnerships and collaboration with BWH clinicians and support from BWH leadership as keys to the program’s success.
“Staff’s awareness of what we do and their eagerness to connect with us to make sure their patients are being seen – that says a lot,” said Crump. “Everyone is on the same page. Additionally, I am extremely proud of Rahsaan and Masika’s ability to take this work to another level. They are not only achieving the program’s goals, but also exceeding them, and that right there blows me away.”
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