DURHAM, N.C. (WNCN) — Nearly every day we report on gun violence affecting our communities.
Shootings take a toll that is physical, emotional, and financial.
According to a report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office, the initial hospital costs for gunshot wounds across the country add up to more than $1 billion a year, according to the most recently available hospital data, from 2016 and 2017.
The accountability office estimates that additional costs could add 20 percent to that, and that still doesn’t take into account the long-term treatment many people need.
Research shows people who survive one shooting face a higher risk of being shot again, but now some hospitals are working with community organizations to try to stop that cycle.
Flashing lights and crime tape are things no neighborhood wants to see, but in parts of the Triangle, it can be hard to escape the sound of gunfire and the wail of sirens.
Every year, Duke University Hospital treats hundreds of shooting victims.
“Last year was 393,” noted Uzuri Holder, the program manager of the Duke Violence Recovery Program.
Some come from across the state, but many are shot right on the streets of Durham. While medical teams work to save their lives, some also see a different kind of specialist.
Demetrius Lynn and Keith Patterson are Senior Violence Recovery Specialists. They link shooting survivors to resources in the community — everything from counseling, to food assistance, to job training.
“What do they need to feel healthy, safe, and stable? That’s what we try to meet,” Patterson explained.
That means healing the injuries that aren’t physical, like depression and PTSD.
Lynn knows the emotional trauma bullets leave behind. He was shot when he was 20 years old. Once an athlete, he was suddenly left without the use of his legs.
“I didn’t understand why I was paralyzed,” he recalled. “I couldn’t fathom why this happened to me.”
Patterson also feels the pain of gun violence, but from a different perspective. A shooting left his cousin paralyzed.
“I do have an understanding from a caregiver point of view,” he said.
Now, both work to show survivors and their families that their lives can be full and rewarding.
“Some people just need somebody to listen,” said Lynn. “They’ve been through so much. You have people that come through there that are victims of multiple incidents, being shot before, being shot in the past.”
“Generally, people who’ve been victims of gun violence once have a higher risk of being a victim of gun violence a second time,” added Holder.
She added that reducing the risk of being shot again is one goal of hospital-based violence intervention programs. She said the program works to support the whole person.
Duke’s program is less than six months old, but it’s modeled after a program in Richmond, Virginia created more than 15 years ago.
Dr. Michel Aboutanos is the director of VCU Health’s Injury and Violence Prevention Program. He’s also a trauma surgeon who knows the heartbreak of treating victims of repeated shootings.
“I watched this kid die in the operating room, and I said, ‘You know what, we’re just a band-aid. We’re treating, to treat, only just to treat again,’ and this is what started our program.”
According to Aboutanos, hospitals are uniquely positioned to reach victims of violence.
“We just saved their lives, and we say, ‘Look, if you trust me enough to take care of your body, to help you walk, to help you heal, would you trust me to put you in a program that will help you not be in this situation again?'”
So, how successful has the program been? One measure is the rate of re-injury.
Aboutanos says people who participate in the program at VCU rarely end up back in the hospital with a violence-related injury.
“In our hospital, if you’re not in our program, it’s around 20 percent,” he noted. “If you are in our program, we are able to reduce it to 3.6 percent which is huge.”
The team at Duke hopes for similar success.
“If it has to do with connecting with childcare, we try to help with that, job or vocational training we connect them to resources in the community because Durham has a lot of programs,” noted Holder.
Duke offers up to a year of follow-up support to patients who live in Durham — the city that both Lynn and Patterson call home.
“When you hire people from the community, who know the community, you have a better success rate,” said Holder.
According to Holder, the program is funded, in part, by a two-year federal grant and, in part, by the hospital. In order to renew the grant, the program must prove it is effective.
Participation in the Violence Recovery Program is completely voluntary, and while it’s still very new, the team says there are promising signs.
“The patients are following up with their appointments,” said Lynn. “We will go to the clinic and meet them there, so I guess that’s a start for success – just putting the first foot forward.”
When it comes to healing, Patterson said a little understanding can go a long way.
“What’s the most important thing that you feel you can do for someone who’s been shot?” CBS 17’s Maggie Newland asked him.
“Make them feel human,” he said. “Simple as that.”