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Health Care Justice

To Stop Violence, Bill Would Fund Victims’ Services

U.S. Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-Md.). Photo from the University of Maryland Medical Center Facebook page.

When a patient arrives at R Adams Cowley Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore with a violent injury, there’s a decent chance they’ve been the victim of a violent crime before as well.

One of the leading risk factors for violent injury is a prior violent injury and trauma centers are no strangers to “repeat customers.”

But a Violence Intervention Program at Shock Trauma has seen success in keeping patients out of their hospital beds in the future – by evaluating patients and providing them social services while they’re bedridden and recovering. The program, which was developed in 1998 by Dr. Carnell Cooper, has been recognized nationally, and a bill in Congress could expand similar programs.

U.S. Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-Md.) was at the trauma center on Monday to announce that he’s reintroducing legislation, the End the Cycle of Violence Act, to provide funding for 10 violence prevention programs across the country. H.R. 2464 would require the secretary of Health and Human Services to give $750,000 in federal grants to expand services or study effectiveness of hospital-based violence prevention programs during a three-year pilot program.

“It’s no secret that violence on the streets of Baltimore has reached unacceptable levels,” Ruppersberger said in a statement. “The smart men and women at Shock Trauma’s Center for Injury Prevention and Policy have recognized that patients recovering from violent injuries are a captive audience, if only for a few days. Through the Violence Intervention Program, they are providing critical services that have produced incredible results. My bill will enable hospitals around the country to replicate this strategy.”

About 8,000 people are treated each year for traumatic injuries at the R Adams Cowley center, and about 20 percent of patients at the trauma center are victims of violence, usually stabbings and shootings. Participants in the Violence Intervention Program have shown an 83 percent decrease in rehospitalization due to intentional violent injury, a 75 percent reduction in criminal activity and an 82 percent increase in employment, according to a news release.

Ruppersberger’s office cited a 2012 study from the Center for American Progress that concluded the direct costs of violent crime – public safety services, medical expenses and lost wages, for example – amounts to about $42 billion annually.

The bill is cosponsored by Rep. Ann Kuster (D-N.H.), who founded and co-chairs the Bipartisan Task Force to End Sexual Violence. “I’ve seen the pervasiveness of violence in our country and its horrific consequences,” Kuster said in a statement. “The urgency with which we must strengthen prevention and education efforts to help end this scourge cannot be understated.”

The Violence Intervention Program at Shock Trauma connects victims with “wraparound services,” including access to housing support, job training, substance abuse treatment, or funding to cover basic needs like bus fare or groceries.

Shock Trauma’s physician-in-chief Dr. Thomas Scalea said Ruppersberger’s bill and greater federal research into intervention programs could help establish sustainable funding for programs that aim to stop the cycle of violence.

“Here in Baltimore, violence continues at an unprecedented rate. Trauma centers throughout the country see these similar challenges. Violence intervention programs have been proven to provide the necessary resources and expertise that make a difference in people’s lives,” Scalea said.

So far in 2019, there have been 101 homicide victims in the city of Baltimore, according to Baltimore Sun data.

Organizations supporting Ruppersberger’s bill include the Fraternal Order of Police, American College of Surgeons, National District Attorneys Association and National Network of Hospital-based Violence Intervention Programs.

“The importance of wraparound services for victims of violent crimes has proven more effective with each case of its use,” Hilary O. Shelton, director of the Washington bureau of the NAACP, said in a statement. “We need coordinated, innovative solutions. This bill offers a solid approach to addressing the challenges victims of violent crimes experience.”

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To Stop Violence, Bill Would Fund Victims’ Services