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St. Louis Children's Hospital plans to address violence

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ST. LOUIS, Mo. (AP) — St. Louis Children’s Hospital is hoping to become a national leader in the prevention of street and gun violence involving young people.

 The hospital has developed a treatment model called “hospital-based violence intervention.” Victims of street violence are assigned social workers who connect the victims and their families to counseling, housing and other resources.

St. Louis Children’s medical director for trauma, Martin Keller, said the hospital has long done an excellent job in treating injuries caused by gunshots and stabbings. But he said that in the past, the hospital has failed to provide follow-up and preventative care.

Rosmarie Harris, head of security at the hospital, was a driving force behind the effort. She had long been horrified at the number of children and teens arriving with life-threatening wounds from violence. Officials said the hospital had been treating more than 10 percent of its admitted patients annually for gunshot and stab wounds — a higher percentage than at children’s hospitals in other big cities such as Philadelphia, Milwaukee and Kansas City, Mo.

Just last week, an 8-year-old was brought to the hospital after he was shot in the back while riding in a car targeted in a drive-by shooting.

Harris played a key role in getting St. Louis police to participate in the hospital’s new effort. Police now believe the program has the potential to not only treat violence, but prevent it.

“I don’t think people have realized that the hospital can come in and break this cycle of violence,” said Matt Simpson, a St. Louis Police Department officer who worked with the hospital to develop the program. “Ethically and morally, you need to do something more beyond trauma care. Here’s a chance for the hospital to come in and change the course of a child’s life.”

Children’s Hospital has long been a leader in charitable service and community outreach to prevent and control juvenile diabetes, asthma, sexually transmitted diseases and lead poisoning among the poor. Keller said the hospital, however, was failing to view youth violence as a public health epidemic.

“When we have a kid present here with juvenile diabetes, we practically follow him to the day he gets married. But with these kids, once we release them, they are on their own,” he said.

Diana Kraus, manager of trauma services at Children’s, said staff had also been alarmed by a number of children who begged to stay in the hospital because they were scared to return to their neighborhoods.

The first hospital-based violence intervention program began a decade ago at the University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore. About a dozen urban hospitals now use it.

About $200,000 in charitable funding is in place for the St. Louis effort. Organizers plan to hire two social workers next year dedicated solely to patients hurt by gunshot and other violence.

The social workers will connect with the families in the hospital and make follow-up visits in the home, where they will help families develop safety plans and find services — anything from after-school program to job services.

“This is a moment in the kids’ lives where they’re very vulnerable and the family is more apt to accept help,” Simpson said. “If it’s coming from the hospital, then the trust starts automatically there.”

Copyright 2010 Associated Press

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