RICHMOND, Va. -- After four teenagers were shot in the Richmond metro over the weekend, a program at VCU Medical Center might offer some perspective on ways of preventing and breaking the cycle of violence through personal connection and partners who can relate.
The “Bridging the Gap” program began as a pilot project in 2007. Peer support specialists connect with survivors of shootings and other violent acts when they are admitted to the hospital and then help connect them to health, housing, and job resources.
Many of the peer support specialists, who become a resource to the patient too, have direct connections to the root causes of gun violence or have experienced it themselves, like Darrell Anderson.
“I was shot five times. I was in the wrong place at the wrong time, you know,” said Anderson, who is 25-years-old. “It’s powerful because for someone who’s been injured before, being able to understand your pain is helpful. It’s like a connection right then and there. It’s very important for me to make sure basically they don’t come back.”
Over the past three years, several hundred patients have taken part in the Bridging the Gap program and fewer than 1% have returned to the hospital with violence-related injuries.
“We think of our services as socially treating the patient,” said Rochelle Hunley, the program’s manager. “Violence is often used as a resource and a means to survive. So when I say socially treating someone, I’m saying meeting their basic needs.”
The shootings involving teenagers this weekend are an example, Hunley said, of why connecting communities with resources to prevent violence should also happen well before they reach the hospital.
“It shows that it is a public health issue, and if we treat it as a disease, and look at those social determinants, look at access to opportunity, things can get better and they will,” Hunley said.
Anderson agrees and sees his role as a “lifeboat” for young people who many times do not know what will come next.
“It’s something unexpected that you wouldn’t think could save your life. You wouldn’t think that one conversation with me could change your whole mind frame. You wouldn’t want to be suicidal; you wouldn’t want to give up, you’d want to work because you see that I haven’t given up,” Anderson said.
You can learn more about Bridging the Gap and the Injury and Violence Prevention Program at VCU Health here.