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Violent crime leaves invisible injuries. Philly hospital staffers use their life stories to help heal them

Jason Laughlin, The Philadelphia Inquirer on

Published in Health & Fitness

“The worst you can do when you talk to a client is say you know what they’re going through and then you don’t,” he said. “That’s a sign of disrespect.”

Trauma can be caused by the injury itself, as well as the lifesaving but invasive medical treatments that follow, Penn researchers found in a study of 623 injured Black men published this spring in the journal Injury. Black men have also described feeling stigmatized or viewed without empathy in rehabilitation settings because of their race, another 2022 study noted in the journal Social Science and Medicine.

Many of men in the Penn study also expressed helplessness and suicidal thoughts.

“We asked people why they chose to enter a research study. It was for human connection,” said coauthor Therese Richmond, a Penn professor of nursing who studies the emotional effects of serious injuries.

Hospitals’ liaisons, often called intervention specialists, serve as a combination of confidante, social worker and counselor. They can help patients replace the cards in a stolen wallet or get a driver’s license. They may also provide assistance to find relocation funds, seek additional mental health support or enroll in a GED program.

Rodney Babb, 26, began work in August as an intervention specialist with Penn Presbyterian with a goal of supporting his patients with “whatever their need is to get back to a normal life after being shot.”

 

The work often begins in hospital rooms with people still recovering from serious injuries. Building a connection there is critical, said Arturo Zinny, director of Drexel University’s Healing Hurt People, one of the first organizations in the city to bring credible messengers from Philadelphia communities to hospitals.

“People very rarely seek services on their own,” he said.

Becoming a victim of violent crime can shatter the person’s sense of self. Those first interactions between a victim and supportive peer in the hospital can ease emotional barriers.

“They were going about their normal lives when something terrible happened,” said Elinore Kaufman, a trauma surgeon who works with Penn Presbyterian’s outreach program.

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