Regional One Health in Memphis, Tenn., is showing young victims of knife and gunshot wounds that there are ways to escape the cycle of violence.
The hospital’s Rx for Change violence-intervention program promotes positive alternatives to violence by helping young patients get jobs, training and continued education.
“We give them hope,” says Elgin Tunstall, the program’s chief violence intervention liaison. “This assault or injury may not be the first time they’ve been through a traumatic experience. So we tread lightly and seek to understand, and give them reason to believe they can turn their lives around.”
The program began in 2013 to serve 14-to 24-year old trauma victims – patients who had been shot, stabbed or assaulted.
Tunstall meets patients at their bedside when they are admitted to the hospital’s critical care unit.
“It’s when you get the opportunity to talk to them and ask, ‘what is it that we need to do to make sure you don’t come back here?” says Tunstall, who seeks to prevent patients from retaliating against those who injured them.
If patients decide to take advantage of the free program, they work with Tunstall to set and achieve personal goals – no matter how small or big – that can help change their lives. They range from enrolling in college or receiving vocational training to getting a basic form of identification.
Tunstall usually sets up a home visit within three days of the patient’s discharge from the hospital. That initial visit gives him a “feel for their living conditions, the environment and an opportunity to set realistic goals that they can achieve,” he says. Depending on the severity of the injury, Tunstall works with patients form six months to a year. During that time, he meets them in their homes or takes phone calls from patients who just need a listening ear.
Rx for Change collaborates with about 25 community partners to provide patients with the means to achieve their goals.
“We could not do this alone,” Tunstall says. “By building and maintaining relationships across the community, we can address the many factors that can lead someone to choose a lifestyle of violence, and instead give them better options.
About 180 patients have participated in the program. Before its inception, the percentage of trauma victims who were discharged from the hospital, but later returned because of another violent incident was 44%. For those enrolled in Rx for Change, the rate is 4%.
The city of Memphis provided the initial funds to start the program. The hospital’s foundation and grants help sustain it today.
Tunstall keeps in touch with many former patient who have completed Rx for Change, and says it’s rewarding to “see how they have grown.”
Former patients like Julia Davis, who was shot in the arm and jaw in December 2014, and admitted to the hospital. Rx for Change arranged for her to be home schooled for the months she was healing from her wounds. Tunstall also connected Davis to a dentist to fix damaged caused by the bullet wound to her jaw.
One of Davis’ goals was to return to high school and graduate on schedule with her class. She did. Another was to attend her prom. She did that too – and Tunstall came to her home to see her off.
Today, Davis is working on one more goal: graduating college. She is a rising sophomore at Lane College in Jackson, Tenn., studying to become a nurse.
“I am forever grateful for Regional One Health and the intervention program, which changed my life,” she says.
“Julia was a diamond in the rough,” Tunstall says. “Now she is a diamond that shines.”
The AHA’s “Hospitals Against Violence” campaign raises awareness about how hospitals and health systems are working to reduce violence in their communities and in their facilities. The campaign’s web page offers examples of innovative examples to tackle the problem, as well as tools and resources that can help hospitals and health systems support their role in reducing violence. Read more AHA News stories on how hospitals are addressing violence in their communities:
'Wraparound' support stops revolving door of violent injuries
'Cradle to Grave' helps at-risk youth understand gritty reality of gun violence
Keeping teens from being repeat victims of gunshot, knife wounds