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Hospital-based violence intervention program set to start in Aurora

The goal is to break the cycle of violent crime by having case workers meet with the victims while they’re still in the hospital.

AURORA, Colo. — The hours and days after someone gets shot or stabbed or assaulted can change the course of the rest of their lives. 

From the hospital beds at Denver Health, outreach workers have been trying to break the cycle of violence. Now Aurora will start using the same strategy to try and bring down its violent crime.

"The first thing I do is say, 'How are you doing? How are you feeling right now? I know this is traumatic for you,'" said Johnnie Williams, the executive director of the Gang Rescue and Support Project and an outreach worker for the hospital-based violence intervention program at Denver Health. "Just talking with them and helping them through that. Then after that, talk to them about what can we do to prevent this from happening to you again."

In 2019, a team of six outreach workers met with 496 people at Denver Health impacted by violent crime. They said the program is working, so much so the city of Aurora recently approved funding to start its own At-risk Intervention and Mentoring (AIM) program at University of Colorado Hospital. 

The program is set to start on July 1. 

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Trauma surgeons like Catherine Velopulos see hundreds of patients that could benefit every year.

"We need to have programs that are actually able to help the whole person and intervene in people’s lives instead of just putting band aids on things," Velopulos said.  

Case workers stay with the victims of violent crime that they meet in the hospital for as long as it takes to get them the help they need, up to 18 months. The main age group they deal with is 14 to 28, but case workers said they often see kids even younger.

"Our way of understanding if it’s really working or not is the interactions we have with our patients or clients," said Michelle McDaniel, an AIM Program manager and outreach worker. "We can measure them differently based on outcomes whether they are connected to education or employment. Sometimes I measure it if my kid is having a good day. Our main role is just to build a relationship with them, so when they are ready for that, we are here for them."

Through the COVID-19 pandemic, Denver Health said it's seen a smaller number of people who were victims of violent crime come into the hospital. The number of people allowed into the hospital was also limited. 

Now it’s starting to pick back up again and the program in Aurora will start next week.

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