News: Stopping the Blood Flow

New program treats more than gunshot wounds

May 10, 2006 at 2:06 pm
Graham Lienhart

Police Chief Thomas Streicher (left) and Dr. Kenneth Davis discuss a program that will give gunshot victims services beyond medical care.

Ace Ventura was shot three times within 18 months in Cincinnati. Ventura is an alias given to a local man who is a repeat customer at the University Hospital Adult Trauma Center.

He fits the profile of a gunshot victim who will soon be able to access a host of support services through Out of the Crossfire.

This gun violence intervention program, developed over three years ago by Dr. Jay Johannigman and Dr. Kenneth Davis, was partly the result of seeing the same patients over and over again.

"We were extremely frustrated putting them back together, knowing that we did not have the resources to offer them more," Johannigman says. "We were putting them back in the same environment. As doctors, we have these patients and uniquely have their attention for the short time that they're here. There's nothing like being shot and looking up at a surgeon saying, 'We're going to the operating room' and waking up knowing you survived all that to catch their attention."

Hospital as starting point
What Johannigman wants to do is link gunshot victims with support and services that will help them heal and address the issues that brought them to his operating table in the first place. He and Davis looked at a similar program in Baltimore, Md. that saw a reduction in violence-related trauma recidivism.

The program resulted in victims who were more likely to be employed, less likely to be arrested for a violent crime and less likely to be readmitted to the hospital because of a violent act.

"We have no ability, as physicians and hospital employees, to mandate anything to a patient," Johannigman says. "I am their advocate, and I am their doctor. My job is to show them that there's help there, should they choose to accept that help. My experience is that a lot of them are going to ask for that help."

A program coordinator will match individual needs and community resources, everything from vocational skills training and employment assistance to housing and child care.

"My concept is that this person's gonna have a really big Rolodex on his desk," Johannigman says. "Cincinnati's interesting in that there's a lot of programs out there meant to address these things but nobody knows them all. They're different on the West side than they are in Madisonville or Over-the-Rhine, and they're different if you're 16 or if you're 26. They're different if you're on parole or if you're female or male."

While the coordinator will ultimately design the program, Johannigman would like to see a strong mentoring component.

Hamilton County Municipal Judge Elizabeth Mattingly supports Out of the Crossfire and has committed to working with the program coordinator.

"We would be delighted to get anybody we could out of this cycle of violence because our goal is to help people lead productive lives," she says. "Sometimes I think people who get enmeshed in the criminal justice system ... feel overwhelmed by what they're confronting. If someone were willing to participate in this program and evidence some real interest in changing their lifestyle so they're not part of this violent picture, I would be more than willing to work with them."

Mattingly took the program to the Cincinnati Bar Foundation for consideration when it was looking for a project related to the legal community that would be beneficial for Cincinnati.

"Oftentimes these victims have legal problems," says Ralph Ginocchio, chair of the foundation's Grant Committee. "A lot of these people have constant contact with the legal system; that's why we're interested."

Ginocchio has worked with other foundation members to raise half of the $250,000 needed to fund the three-year pilot of Out of the Crossfire. Some of the 4,000 foundation members are working with businesses to raise the rest.

"When (victims) are uninsured, that means the taxpayers are picking it up," Ginocchio says. "You know who else picks it up? You're a private employer; your health insurance covers it — 15 to 20 percent of my premium is for the uninsured, so I have an economic, vested interest to contribute."

'Not willing to give up'
Breaking the cycle of violence is the goal, according to Mayor Mark Mallory.

"A lot of times what happens is a person is shot, they survive and, rather than cooperate with the police, they take matters into their own hands," he says. "That's where the cycle comes in, because two weeks later the shooting that you hear about on the news may be related."

Mallory says he's using "the full weight" of his office to bring attention to the program. But the city isn't pledging any money to support it.

At a press conference May 8, Police Chief Thomas Streicher pledged support from the police department.

"Often times these victims have no other choices or believe they have no other choices simply because of the lifestyle they've been exposed to: 'The only way to answer violence is with violence,' " Streicher said. "They believe there's no other way out. This program is going to provide an opportunity to open some doors, for them to open their eyes and realize there is some other way of guiding their life."

While Johannigman doesn't rule out expanding the program to former patients, he wants the pilot to be focused on this year's victims. He's projecting 300.

"Perhaps, like an alcoholic, we have to realize we've hit rock bottom and it's time to put things back together," he says. "Because if we don't wake up soon, there's not going to be a downtown left. I grew up remembering that, when you wanted to do something cool or fun, it was a big deal to go downtown. I don't think kids today are growing up with that concept.

"The real tragedy here, the real problem is that the people in West Chester, in Indian Hill, in Western Hills are both scared by the violence and willing to abandon downtown to the violence. When we do that, we've lost our city. I'm not willing to give up on this city. I grew up in it, I brought my kids back here to be raised in it and I think we have too much at stake to allow this tragedy of violence to impact upon what we are as a community."

To donate to Out of the Crossfire, call Rene McPhedran at 513-784-9595. To volunteer services, call Peggy Sogar at 513-584-7313.