Violence is a public health issue in the United States. Every year, there are more than 55,000 deaths and 2.5 million violence-related injuries. Yet the impact of violence goes beyond the acute event; exposure to the trauma of violence can lead to long-term health issues, including post-traumatic stress, depression, anxiety and substance abuse.

As a location where many victims of violence seek medical treatment, hospitals and health systems are uniquely positioned to interrupt the cycle of violence in their patient population and community. Violence is a complex issue involving social, economic and behavioral components at the individual and community levels. Regardless, hospitals across the U.S. are taking on violence in an approach to improve the health of the communities they serve.

Building awareness

To advance the field’s work around violence prevention, the American Hospital Association’s Hospitals Against Violence action team is sharing insights and lessons from hospital-based violence intervention programs. This work will be spotlighted June 9, which is Hospitals Against Violence Hope (HAVhope): A National Day of Awareness.

During this day, hospitals across the country will focus attention on ending all forms of violence with a digital media campaign. We hope that elevating the stories of hospitals that are successfully addressing violence in their community will be an inspiration and useful resource for other hospitals and their communities. HAVhope Friday is part of Community Health Improvement Week, June 4-10.

While the impetus for hospitals’ and health care systems’ focus on violence varies, violence regularly appears in community health needs assessments as a priority need, indicating that the CHNA process is helping elevate violence as a community health priority. A review of CHNAs found that 12 percent of hospitals identified community violence prevention as a community health need and have implemented programs or strategies to address violence.

To explore how these hospitals are addressing violence in their communities, the Hospitals Against Violence action team is releasing a series of podcasts sharing a few of their stories.

University of Maryland Medical Center: Community violence has long been a health issue in Baltimore, home to the University of Maryland Medical Center. UMMC uses an individual’s admission to the hospital from violent injury as an entry point to start intensive case management with the victim and surround him or her with the social and medical support needed to reduce risk and recidivism.

Sinai Hospital – LifeBridge Health: Also in Baltimore, Sinai Hospital has focused efforts on the social and economic determinants of violence through its Kujichagulia Center; “kujichagulia” means self-determination in Swahili. The center provides development and violence prevention services to youth in their communities, including education and vocational training to help them escape the cycle of violence. Recognizing that violence occurs in the social context of a community, Sinai focuses on medically treating the victim as well as assessing the situation outside of the hospital, trying to quell the dispute that led to the violence and connecting the victim with resources and social support to prevent further incidents.

Advocate Christ Medical Center: Violence has been a community health concern for Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn, Ill., just southwest of Chicago. The hospital’s violence prevention work grew out of trauma center requirements, but it has evolved to become a central element of the organization. The hospital was an initial partner of CeaseFire, which applies a public health model to interrupting violence, using a person’s entrance to the hospital as an impetus for intervention. Starting with the hospital’s local community, efforts have grown and evolved over time, and violence prevention has become an integral part of Christ Medical Center, with organization buy-in from all levels. Notably, the entire medical staff decided to support the hospital’s violence prevention efforts.

These stories are much more powerful when you hear them from the individuals leading these initiatives. Visit the Hospitals Against Violence website and click on the "key resources" tab to listen to this collection of podcasts.

To learn more about how to participate in HAVhope Friday, visit its webpage

Julia J. Resnick, M.P.H., is a senior program manager at the Health Research & Educational Trust and the Association for Community Health Improvement in Chicago and a member of the American Hospital Association's Hospitals Against Violence action team.