De-Escalating Urban Violence In Most Vulnerable Moments

Host Rachel Martin speaks with Dr. Ted Corbin about hospital-focused efforts to help victims of urban violence. Corbin is the director of Healing Hurt People, a program based at Drexel University and Hahnemann Hospital in Philadelphia. The program supports victims of violence immediately upon their arrival in the emergency room.

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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

So that is one, specific way that some in Congress are trying to address the issue of gun violence. Dr. Ted Corbin, of Philadelphia, says there's a need for broader gun control laws. But he also says people in his field can make a difference. Corbin is an emergency room doctor, and the director of a program called Healing Hurt People. Corbin says when someone comes into an emergency room with a gunshot wound, there's an opportunity to make sure it doesn't happen again, by directly introducing victims to social services. He explained what he calls the golden moment.

DR. TED CORBIN: In many instances, this is a time where a young person has an opportunity to make a change. In many instances, their emotions are heightened, which is a natural physiological response to any type of traumatic injury. And in some instances, the idea is to retaliate. The way that we work is one, to try to de-escalate and also, inform the young person of what happened to you, you did not deserve and it's not fair; and try to shift it and change it, so that the idea of retaliation is not so prominent.

MARTIN: Is there an example that you could share with us, of someone who you treated in this moment; who then left the hospital doors and went out into the world, and you thought to yourself, "I don't know what's going to happen to that young person."

CORBIN: So when I was at another institution and working in the emergency department, and cared for a young person who had been shot and - I don't want to get too gory but he - actually, some of his intestines were coming out. And we have an amazing medical-surgical protocol where we get them situated, get them medically stabilized to ensure that they don't die. The one problem is what happens after that. And in many instances, the psychological and emotional issues that go along with this injury aren't necessarily dealt with.

So that was one instance that I wondered what actually happened to the young person. He was admitted; he had the best medical care ever. But I don't know what happened after that. Fast forward a few years later, where we were able to establish a program after doing some research to figure out what the structure of the program should look like. We had a person come in who was shot. And the person was actually stable enough that they were able to be discharged.

The faculty, the nursing staff of the emergency department knows that when such an injury comes in, that they're going to contact our social workers. So my social worker interacted with him to just try to tell him - you know - you've been through a lot, and you might experience nightmares; you might be a little jumpier than usual. That's all completely normal. And she made sure that he had the appropriate medical follow-up because in a lot of instances, especially my 18- to 24-year-olds, they're in that gray zone. They're unemployed; they're uninsured. And so they're not likely to come back for follow-up care. So she actually started to have - having a conversation, establishing a rapport with the young man to ensure that he would be OK, and to help him heal - so that they don't develop things like post-traumatic stress disorder or depression, which we know does, in fact, contribute to the cycle of violence.

MARTIN: Is there a typical profile for a victim of this kind of violence, in Philadelphia? I mean, you mentioned the age range 18 to 24. Is that part of a typical demographic?

CORBIN: It is and unfortunately, the other piece to that is they're usually young boys and men of color.

MARTIN: How does that - or does it? Does it affect how people respond to their injuries?

CORBIN: It does. Part of our work is to deconstruct some of the biases that some people have about the young people that we work with, and opening them up to understand and recognize that the young person did not necessarily get themselves shot - which is an assumption that many people have - to help them to understand and recognize that some of the young people actually have had chronic adversity, chronic stress, which actually all feeds into the increased likelihood of them being victims of interpersonal violence.

MARTIN: The country has been kind of locked in this national debate about gun violence and gun control since the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary, in Connecticut. Have you followed this debate?

CORBIN: Yes.

MARTIN: What has been your reaction to - kind of the proposals in Congress, and talk about what the government can or can't do, and who should be responsible?

CORBIN: I absolutely believe there should be more stringent gun laws and regulations. The thing about Sandy Hook, which I think is absolutely deplorable and awful that it happened; one example I think that they set is after that traumatic event, they did something that I believe was the absolute appropriate thing to do. They moved those children to a different school so they didn't have to go to the school where they experienced that traumatic event.

They also had counselors available for the children and the families. I think that's absolutely what should happen. And the rest of the country, particularly urban environments, are going through that same thing. Yet - and still, there is no such counseling available for the young people.

MARTIN: Because they're just isolated incidents.

CORBIN: They're isolated but at the same time, they happen every day, unfortunately. And so, this is where we feel that we have a role in helping them deal with their trauma, and also help them heal.

MARTIN: Dr. Ted Corbin is an emergency room doctor, and the director of Healing Hurt People in Philadelphia. That's a program at Drexel University's Center for Nonviolence and Social Justice.

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MARTIN: And you're listening to NPR News.

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