WU’s Institute for Public Health joins gun violence intervention program

Aiden Blinn | Staff Reporter

The Institute for Public Health at Washington University has announced the formation of the St. Louis Area Hospital-Based Violence Intervention Program, a joint effort by universities and hospitals to disrupt patterns of gun violence in St. Louis.

St. Louis Area Hospital-Based Violence Intervention Program (STL-HVIP) offers counseling and support for victims of gun violence while they recover in the hospital. The program is a collaboration between four local hospitals that provide trauma care for gunshot wounds and Washington University, Saint Louis University and the University of Missouri-St. Louis.

According to William Powderly, director of the Institute for Public Health, STL-HVIP works with victims of gun violence in an effort to disrupt the cycle of gun violence.

“What has been found in the past is that someone who has been a victim of gun violence has a very high risk of coming back [as] a victim at another time,” Powderly said. “There’s this sort of vicious cycle that people get into. When they retaliate, they may be then shot again. And a significant number of them end up dying.”

Powderly added that the new program intends to direct patients away from potential violent retaliation.

“The purpose of this is trying to interrupt that cycle by offering intensive counseling, mentoring and trying to get people on a different trajectory,” Powderly said.

Associate Director of the Institute for Public Health Victoria Anwuri explained that the hospital setting provides an ideal environment for mentoring and rehabilitation.

“Hospitals are the primary location where patients who have suffered a violent injury seek medical care and thus are uniquely positioned to interrupt the cycle of violence for these high-risk individuals,” Anwuri wrote in an email to Student Life. “Hospitals are well positioned to interrupt the cycle of violence by intervening at a uniquely teachable moment when individuals have survived a violent injury.”

According to Powderly, a crucial aspect of the STL-HVIP is its ability to link patients with the resources they need for their lives after the hospital.

“A big part of mentoring and support is to really help connect individuals with other social supports and community supports that exist—whether it’s job training, whether it’s going back to school, whether it’s assistance with housing,” Powderly said.

Powderly believes that victims of gun violence may not be aware of alternatives to the cycle of violence, which the STL-HVIP aims to correct.

“We’re not trying to, necessarily, completely change individuals,” Powderly said. “I think for many people, however, they haven’t necessarily had opportunities to realize what other options are available to them.”

Senior Thomas Van Horn, co-president of the student group Leaders in Interpersonal Violence Education (LIVE), is hopeful about the program.

“I think it looks like a promising program, and I am optimistic about the possibility of reducing retaliatory violence,” Van Horn wrote in an email to Student Life. “These programs have worked in other cities and have been shown to decrease the amount of retaliatory violence, specifically gun violence.”

Despite his optimism, Van Horn noted that the program does not focus on violence between partners, which he views as an important component of gun violence.

“But as I understand it, the initiative does not seem to address Intimate Partner Violence (IPV), which is the primary focus of LIVE,” Van Horn wrote. “Instead, it mainly focuses on cycles of retaliation often caused by strangers or acquaintances.”

Van Horn hopes that programs such as these will take into account the distinct nature of IPV.

“Victims of IPV may present with the same symptoms of trauma at the ER, but the situations that caused them are entirely different from retaliatory gun violence and other kinds of assault and thus require their own nuanced response and resources,” Van Horn wrote. “I hope that, in the future. the investigators behind this program implement further protocols to specifically address these survivors.”

Van Horn stressed the importance of treating not only the aftermath of violence but also the conditions that lead to violence within the city.

“What physicians do in hospitals has direct impacts on the communities around them,” Van Horn wrote. “For that reason, it is their duty to look beyond their walls and help address the underlying reasons patients visit them in the first place.”

Sign up for the email edition

Stay up to date with everything happening at Washington University and beyond.