…As experts increasingly view violence as a medical concern, hospitals see it as an opportunity. “There’s been a groundswell of professionals understanding that this is a public health issue,” said Rochelle Dicker, a trauma surgeon and professor at the University of California, San Francisco, who directs the UCSF Medical Center’s violence prevention program.
And the 2010 federal health law supports that interest. It says nonprofit hospitals have to work harder if they want to maintain their tax-exempt status: Among other requirements, they have to formally measure their surrounding community’s health needs at least every three years and implement a strategy to address them.
To this end, a growing number of hospitals, especially those located in areas with high rates of violent crime, are partnering with local organizations to try to reduce neighborhood violence, said Jonathan Purtle, an assistant professor at Drexel University who researches hospitals and violence prevention.
The Department of Justice has been supportive, too. In a 2012 report, it recommended that hospitals become more involved in violence prevention, through counseling patients directly or connecting them with education, gang diversion programs, substance abuse treatment and other social services.
Research shows that, if someone comes in suffering from a gunshot or stab wound and then, after leaving the hospital, returns to the same environment, there are good odds they will be back in the emergency department. In addition, trends and anecdotal evidence suggest people at higher risk for violent injury are likely to face issues such as domestic violence, mental illness or substance abuse. They also often deal with other stressors, like poverty or bad housing. These challenges can result in health problems including lead poisoning and poor nutrition, which the hospital can work to address. Even if they can’t change, for instance, a neighborhood’s crime rate or drug culture, they can help someone get into rehab or find somewhere new to live.
Much of the growth in such hospital interventions has happened in the past five years, Dicker said.
“It’s becoming a more established understanding that this kind of violence is preventable,” said Rebecca Cunningham, an emergency medicine professor at the University of Michigan and associate director of its youth violence prevention center. “And we can have programs that can prevent it, and the hospital and emergency department are really critical locations for this.”
Read the full article from Kaiser Health News.