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Alternative Medicine

New hospital-based program aims to reduce the number of gunshot victims.


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Hot weather and hot tempers go hand-in-hand, according to local crime statistics that show a rise in violent crimes in the summer months.

Memphis mayor A C Wharton and the Regional Medical Center at Memphis (the MED) are banding together to cool things down with their new hospital-based violence intervention program, which is designed to reduce the number of gunshot wound victims, beginning this August.

"The overall goal is to reduce repeat injury by gun violence," said Tish Towns, the MED's senior vice president of external affairs. "We want to help young people who are victims of gun violence find different ways to work toward preventing retaliation."

The program will target youth between 13 and 24 years old. Last year, 1,343 people within this age range were arrested for gun-related crimes in Memphis. More than 2,300 people were shot or reportedly shot at in Memphis last year. There were 157 homicides in 2012, and more than 80 percent of those were committed with a firearm.

As young gunshot victims come into the MED, a liaison will work with them and their families by linking them to resources like the Gang Reduction Assistance for Saving Society's Youth (G.R.A.S.S.Y.) program, counseling, GED classes, neighborhood groups, parenting classes, and job training.

The program is a part of Wharton's "Memphis Gun Down" project, a plan that seeks to reduce youth gun violence by 10 percent citywide and by 20 percent in selected areas of Frayser and South Memphis by September 2014.

The hospital-based violence intervention program is one of several initiatives created by the Mayor's Innovation Delivery Team, which is financed by a $4.8 million grant provided by New York mayor Michael Bloomberg to help reduce handgun violence.

"Memphis Gun Down is excited to partner with the Regional Medical Center at Memphis to launch the hospital-based intervention program to complement our existing street and school-based interventions," Wharton said. "We are committed to reaching out to our youth, impacting their lives, and providing them with opportunities wherever they are. It is never too late for a young person to turn his life around and make a positive change."

The Regional Medical Center is the only destination to treat individuals suffering from traumatic injuries, such as gunshot wounds, within a 150-mile radius of Memphis. According to Towns, gunshot victims make up a small percentage of the Med's more than 4,000 annual admissions, however, she said any number is unacceptable.

"One youth who is a victim of a gunshot, coming to our hospital and then being discharged to the same set of circumstances, is just one youth too many," Towns said. "I think the program could have a significant impact on our community. The goal is to intervene with that victim when he or she is admitted to the hospital, to become their friend, and to really help them find other outlets and nonviolent alternatives to their life."

There are about 20 hospital-based violence intervention programs nationwide. Other areas implementing similar programs include Baltimore, Oakland, Chicago, Sacramento, and Philadelphia.

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