Renee Beavers, a violence intervention specialist at Connecticut Children’s, says she is seeing children as young as 8 show up at the ER with gunshot wounds. Tyler Russell / CT Public

Three Hartford-area hospitals have hired violence intervention specialists through federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding this year. Nationally, firearm related deaths among children and young people rose 28% during the pandemic from 2019-2020, latest data show.

“There is an epidemic of firearm injuries in the United States right now,” said Dr. James Dodington, medical director of the Center for Injury and Violence Prevention at Yale New Haven Health, at a gun buyback event in Hartford Nov. 11. “For the first time, firearms are the leading cause of death for children and adolescents in the U.S. and has surpassed motor vehicle injuries.”

At Hartford Hospital, Dr. Charles Johndro, emergency physician and the medical director of Emergency Medical Services, is concerned by “an uptick in gun violence” in the area.

In response, administrators hired David Crump, a violence intervention program coordinator with lived experience and an understanding of the factors behind gun violence. “And he’s been really instrumental in breaking down some of the barriers that exist with the families in talking about these things, and making sure they feel supported,” said Johndro, a member of the state Commission on Community Gun Violence Intervention and Prevention. “And that’s been a great asset.”

Like Crump, Sumay Clark, a violence intervention specialist at Saint Francis Hospital, also taps into her lived experience to help survivors of violent crimes heal and even thrive.

“Since I’ve been here, I have not seen one youth return,” Clark said. “And I think that’s because of the relationship that we build with these youth. Just checking in with Mom and finding out what’s going on and if anything new arises these parents call us.”

The hospital’s violence intervention team also consists of Carolyn Alessi, Clark’s supervisor, who collaborates with other hospital teams. All are in the process of collecting outcomes data.

“Our goal is to not have our patients who come in with violence-related injuries re-enter into our hospital system with those same injuries,” Alessi said.

The youth survivors are connected with nonprofits including Compass Youth, that offer alternative programs to students who dropped out of school and while the day away at local parks, running into trouble with gangs. They also move the families out of high-crime neighborhoods and offer therapy for trauma.

Renee Beavers, violence intervention specialist at Connecticut Children’s, is seeing children as young as eight-years-old show up at the ER with gunshot wounds.

“I get families from New Britain, families from Waterbury, families from Hartford,” she said. “An eight-year-old who was just being called in for dinner, and was part of a crossfire. The majority of our families do live in areas that may have higher crime rates, or they may be involved in something that may make them more prone to violent acts. You know, if you’re in an area that’s high-prone to violence, you do want to move.”

Beavers is at the child’s bedside, connecting with them and “trying to minimize this ever happening to them again,” she said. “We want to change the trajectory of their lives.

She taps into area nonprofits including Hartford Communities That Care to offer what the victims need – whether it’s financial assistance to move to a safer better neighborhood or food for the family.

Beavers acknowledged that this work is already being done in the community.

“But the missing link is, how do we get to them, right? I have this thing I like to call the golden hour, like once this child comes into the hospital,” she pointed out. “And if we can get bedside, they will more likely take services, right?”

Since her appointment this April, Beavers said she has not seen a child come back with a reinjury to date.

Stop The Bleed 

Dr. Len Jacobs was the director of the trauma center at Hartford Hospital when he got a call from Newtown in 2012. “We put our helicopters on response,” he said. “But shortly afterwards, we were told to stand down because there were no live patients. And that had a very profound effect on me.”

Jacobs, a trauma surgeon, his Hartford-area colleagues, and the American College of Surgeons – Jacob was a board member – developed a program in collaboration with the White House National Security and the Federal Bureau of Investigations.

Stop the Bleed is an hour-long lesson that trains the public to stop injured people from bleeding. “And now, there are bleeding control kits in pretty much most big airports and public places in schools,” Jacobs said. “And we’ve trained over 2.5 million people in 134 countries. And there are over 100,000 instructors, who educate the public on how to stop [wounds from] bleeding.”

Jacobs said most victims had sustained injuries from a kitchen knife, chain saw, a fall, or a motorcycle or car crash.

“Every day, people are getting significant lacerations,” he said. “And what happens is the public or loved one doesn’t know what to do. So they watch and call 911. And in the meantime, you’re losing a phenomenal amount of blood. And if you can stop that bleeding, you have an incredibly high chance of saving your limb or saving your life.”

Now a bill – the Prevent Blood Loss with Emergency Equipment Devices (BLEEDing) Act – aims to provide states with funding to expand access to bleeding control kits in public places.