Hospitals don’t need to be the last link in the violence chain and simply patch up victims, says Dannielle Gilyan, Eskenazi Health’s injury prevention coordinator in Indianapolis, Ind. Like her organization, she says they can work in their communities to prevent people from ever becoming victims of violence.

Gilyan heads “Indy HeartBeat,” a new program that treats youth violence as a public health problem. The two-year pilot project, supported by a $1 million Justice Department grant, focuses on a 1.6-mile area of the city identified by the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department (IMPD) for high violence. The area on the city’s east side is home to about 6,600 residents.

The program’s two-pronged approach is to provide services and interventions to youth – up to age 24 – and their families, and to reduce crime through outreach and education.

Gilyan also directs Prescription for Hope, a hospital-based violence intervention program that counsels the victims of violent crimes who show up in Eskenazi Health’s emergency department. Indy HeartBeat expands on that effort by bolstering community resources like education, jobs housing, health care and recreation – factors that advocates say can help reduce crime and violence.

“Unfortunately, our participants are already injured when they come to us through Prescription for Hope,” Gilyan says. “The goal of Indy HeartBeat is to prevent people from being injured in the first place by going into the community and having a positive social and physical impact on those neighborhoods.”  The program is a partnership of Eskenazi Health and the Marion County Health Department.

Indy HeartBeat’s violence-intervention specialists counsel victims of violence and connect them to services that can help improve their lives. The program’s community outreach specialists seek to defuse tensions within the community and work with other stakeholders to address issues like safe and affordable housing, increased access to education and employment, improved public safety, availability of healthy food and environmental hazards.

Indy HeartBeat complements IMPD’s community-based policing, which builds ties to the neighborhood and partnerships between law enforcement and community groups.

“We believe crime is a community issue and can be mitigated through community outreach and education programs such as Indy HeartBeat,” says IMPD Chief Bryan Roach.

Other supporters of the program include city government agencies and faith-based groups, the Indianapolis Public Schools, Indiana Housing Agency, Indiana Department of Child Services and the Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce.

Eskenazi Health’s Gilyan says hospitals and health systems should take a leading role in addressing violence and the toll it takes on their communities. She says violence should be treated like a chronic disease that afflicts the health of communities.

“We have a lot of great models for dealing with congestive heart failure and hypertension and diabetes,” she says. “But when it comes to violence, people consider it a criminal justice issue and shuttle it to law enforcement.”

Indy HeartBeat offers a healthier approach, Gilyan says.

“We are working very hard on not trying to arrest our way out of the issue, but to work with the community to manage food insecurity, job training, housing … going after crooked landlords and so on,” she says. “It is an uphill battle, but we are willing to fight it and I know we will succeed.”

If Indy HeartBeat is successful, Gilyan wants to expand it to other sections of the city and Marion County – which includes Indianapolis – and “continue to build a program that prevents violence and violent injury and contributes to thriving communities.”


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