VCU Health’s gun violence intervention program to expand to hospitals across the state

A program used in Richmond to curb gun violence will expand across Virginia after receiving support from a $5 million grant.
Published: Sep. 28, 2023 at 11:10 PM EDT
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RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - A program used in Richmond to curb gun violence will expand across Virginia after receiving support from a $5 million grant.

“We cannot be a band-aid. We have to be involved in the actual causes of this crisis,” Dr. Michel Aboutanos, with VCU Health, said.

Dr. Aboutanos, a surgeon at VCU Medical Center’s level 1 trauma center, is one of the pioneers behind the program called “Bridging the Gap.”

“Basically, what started it initially is the fact of seeing people shot, especially young kids, and having these people come back because we don’t have a program for preventing them from being shot again,” he said.

Dr.Aboutanos said anytime a young patient comes in with either a shot or stab wound. They ask the patient if they would like to participate in the program.

If a patient says yes, providers will give resources to patients to break the cycle of violence, whether it is finding housing, getting enrolled in a technical program, or finding a job.

“I’m a trauma surgeon, and if you trust me enough, I want to do what is best for and what is best for your family,” Aboutanos said. “Can I put you on a program to help put you on a different trajectory?”

So far, close to 2,000 patients have enrolled in the program, and research shows those enrolled are significantly less likely to return to the hospital due to gun violence.

“Across the country, the recidivism for gunshot wounds is almost up to 50%, if not a little bit higher,” Aboutanos said. “In our program, our five-year recidivism rate is about 3.6%.”

Now, the program has been awarded a five million dollar grant to expand it to different Virginia hospitals, like Petersburg and Norfolk.

The Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services (DCJS) administers the grant to the Virginia Hospital & Healthcare Association (VHHA) Foundation.

The funding will, in part, allow VCU Health to continue to serve as a technical assistance center, providing training and support for other programs throughout the state to develop and execute similar HVIPs.

“Funding has been distributed across six centers for us to act mainly as a technical assistance center,” Aboutanos said. “So we go to other partners in the commonwealth, and we help them establish a program.”

Dr. Aboutanos says as work continues, this is about not making the trauma center the end path for many but a new beginning.

“Once you develop the trust and then you develop, here are the resources that can help you. We have shown that this program works.”