community

Helping Us Deliver Strength in Our Neighborhoods: Addressing Violence in Jersey City

By Whitney Bracco, LCSW Assistant Vice President, Social Impact & Hospital Outpatient Services Jersey City Medical Center

I am sitting in a room with chaplains, community leaders, teenagers, coaches and mothers. Mothers who have lost their children to gun violence. We have gathered everyone together to ask them what can we do? And when I say “we”—I mean what can a hospital do? What can our hospital in Jersey City, New Jersey do?

We need someone to call, they say. We need someone to talk to. We need someone to take this seriously.

As a social worker, their answers didn’t surprise me, but the real question was, “is that ‘someone’ a hospital?”

That answer soon became yes and that answer was because of our system-wide launch of Social Impact. What is Social Impact, you ask? And as many people continue to ask. Social Impact is about looking beyond the four walls of the hospital of how we can help our patients and, perhaps even more strangely for a hospital, how can we help prevent people from ever becoming our patient.

Greenville is the southernmost section in Jersey City. Greenville is where I have worked for the past 8 years and during that time I have come to learn that the Greenville community is tight knit, the Greenville community is proud, the Greenville community is also where hearing gun shots is common.  So common that when staff came to tell me there was a shooting taking place on December 10th 2019 on MLK Boulevard, which sadly turned into a highly publicized mass shooting, my initial response was, “Okay…Thank you. I’ll let security know.” How did this response become common? How did our trauma team know that every summer our gunshot victims would triple in volume? Because it’s common.

To our level II trauma team sitting in the room listening to our community, this was not a revelation that something needed to be done about gun violence, about this “commonness.” In fact they already had a plan in place for their dream program and it was called Project HUDSON. HUDSON standing for Helping Us Deliver Strength in Our Neighborhoods. And yes—Jersey City just happens to be located in Hudson County, New Jersey.

Project HUDSON is RWJBarnabas Health’s first hospital based violence intervention program. During the first year of operations, not one Project HUDSON participant returned to our ER. In addition, Jersey City Medical Center was awarded close to two million dollars in federal funding to expand Project HUDSON. Since inception, we have learned many lessons that have helped to make us stronger and can help other healthcare systems that want to initiate a hospital-based violence intervention program:

  • Involve the community: First and foremost, you must directly ask those who live in the community what the need is so you can properly address it.
  • Hire local: Hire local individuals who the community both knows and trusts. Our Trauma Navigator cannot walk down the streets of Greenville or the hallways of our hospital without someone shouting hello. We even seek to hire individuals who have firsthand experience of being a victim or a past perpetrator.
  • Meet with patient’s bedside: Connecting with the client at the bedside capitalizes on the “teachable moment” which allows our team to establish trust and build rapport for our future work together.
  • Provide comprehensive support: In the words of our Trauma Navigator, “as opposed to just patching patients up and sending them out” we connect them with community resources to address their specific socio-economic needs post-treatment.

So what impact does our hospital hope to make? We hope to give local community members a career they can be proud of. We hope to make working in the arena of violence for hospital systems “common.” And we hope to stop victims of violence from ever walking in our door.