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A hospital is seeing results as it fights to reduce gun violence

Trauma operating room
Posted at 3:10 PM, Mar 09, 2023

A hospital in Virginia is playing an important role in trying to stop the cycle of gun violence.

“[Gunshot victims] come into our hospital 24/7 and [we] haven’t really been able to predict when it’s going to happen,” said Dr. Jay Collins, a professor of surgery at Eastern Virginia Medical School. Collins also serves at the trauma medical director at Sentara Norfolk General Hospital in Norfolk, Virginia.

Since 2012, the rate of gun violence deaths per 100,000 people in the U.S. has increased by 39%, according to Everytown, a nonprofit that advocates for gun violence prevention.

“[Gun violence has] gone up dramatically,” said Collins. “Even in just the last five years, it’s gone up. We’ve almost doubled what we did approximately four years ago.”

Norfolk General is taking a proactive approach to reduce the rate of gun violence. In 2020, the hospital first implemented the Foresight Program, which puts gunshot survivors in touch with long-term care options, including mental health resources, insurance representatives and employment programs.

“Sometimes this may be the one event that makes people look at their life and say, 'I need to make some changes,'” said Valeria Mitchell, the trauma program manager at Norfolk General since 1992.

According to Everytown, two-thirds of gunshot survivors in 2022 expressed the need for mental health services as they recovered.

“It is a slow process. Violence is an indicator for something so much bigger: trauma, and this is generational trauma,” said Angela Parker, team coordinator for the violence intervention program at Norfolk General.

On February 1, 2022, Marcellus Whitehead was brought to Norfolk General after he was shot nine times at a basketball game. He says the underprivileged kids he mentors got into an argument that ended in violence.

Surgeons tended to gunshot wounds on Whitehead's face, shoulder, and legs.

“I was scared. I was real scared,” said Whitehead. “I got little kids. I thought I wasn’t about to see them grow up.”

Following the incident, Whitehead used the Foresight Program to find a psychologist he works with up to twice a week. The therapy helps address the trauma from the shooting and the devastation Whitehead felt when one of his daughters was killed by gun violence in 2019.

“I love art therapy,” he said. “Talking and then doing different types of drawings, putting pictures and stuff together, I felt safe, to tell you the truth. I felt safe that I can, kind of, relax and express how I really feel.”

Parker thinks the Foresight Program can be a model for other hospitals by showing it's not just the moments of immediate care that matter most, but also the support that comes after.