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LVHN, Promise Neighborhoods of the Lehigh Valley Will Use State Grant to Fight Community Violence

Nearly $2 million will help add violence prevention coordinators in the region

A local effort that treats community violence as a public health problem has received a nearly $2 million boost from a federal program administered by the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency.

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf earlier this year announced that Lehigh Valley Health Network’s (LVHN) Cure Violence program, operated in partnership with Promise Neighborhoods of the Lehigh Valley (PNLV), would receive the grant to help expand the program. LVHN and PNLV previously received a $300,000 grant to get Cure Violence off the ground.

Hasshan Batts, DHSC, director at PNLV, says the program helps those at the local level in their efforts to prevent the spread of violence. Batts, who also co-chairs the Gun Violence Committee of the governor’s Commission on African American Affairs, said the effort focuses on things such as violence prevention, community reentry by victims of violence, racial justice and community capacity building.

Batts says violence prevention coordinators connect with victims to build trust in hopes of preventing them from retaliating and furthering the cycle of violence. The efforts also involve prevention education in schools and family support at the neighborhood level.

The grant funding will allow those efforts to expand outside of Allentown in the Lehigh Valley and into communities such as Hazleton.

Did you know?

Lehigh Valley Hospital–Cedar Crest treated 91 gunshot victims in 2021, a 21 percent increase over 2020.

Violence prevention means empathy, interaction, resources

Melissa Mee, a violence prevention coordinator in the trauma department at Lehigh Valley Hospital (LVH)–Cedar Crest, sees violence victims at their bedside. “What we are trying to do is interrupt the cycle,” she says. “We reach them when there is a vacuum and connect with them as credible messengers.”

She says the goal is to be able to hand off the violence victim to support in the community, to services that can make a difference. 

Mee says every situation is different, but notes a common thread is empathy and letting the victim know they are valued.

“This is a public health crisis,” says Carol Fox, director of the trauma program at LVH–Cedar Crest. “We must be involved in this. It’s the right thing to do.”

Jeani Garcia, Zero Youth Violence and Reentry Program Manager at PNLV, says she hopes the grant will enable a safer community and more community engagement.

Garcia lost her son, Kareem Fedd, to gun violence in Allentown a decade ago. Had resources like PNLV been available then, she says Kareem, who was in a gang, might be alive today.

“Our youth need people that look like them and can meet them where they’re at, in their current state,” she says. Building trust, she says, will help with mediation and conflict resolution. More violence prevention coordinators and other resources will help build trust and teach those involved in violence that there are other outlets for solving problems.

“We talk to both sides and explain that the consequences don’t affect just them. It affects families and generations to come,” she says.

Breaking the cycle of violence won’t be easy

Mark Cipolle, MD, Chief, Division of Trauma-Surgical Critical Care, Critical Care Medicine and Trauma Surgery for LVHN, says the Cure Violence Program and PNLV were very interested in applying for the state grant because they were seeing more and more trauma, including shooting, stabbing and assault victims.

He says most trauma victims survive, but then must reenter the same neighborhood or situation where the violence occurred. “The basic premise is to treat it as a public health problem,” Cipolle says.

Fox says LVHN teaming up with PNLV is a “wonderful, natural” partnership. She says the objective is to change attitudes and norms around gun violence and stop the vicious cycle. “We realized we were sending people back to their communities with no resources available to them,” she says.

Cipolle concedes he and others have a heavy lift ahead and their work won’t be easy. “The easiest thing to measure is do we see fewer victims of violence. We hope that happens and if it does, that’s fantastic,” he says. “More difficult to measure is how many victims were you able to successfully reassimilate. How many family members did this affect? These are more subtle end points that may be more difficult to measure scientifically.”

All agree the best treatment is prevention.

“We can stop the bleeding, we can patch the hole, but that’s only a very small part of it,” Cipolle says. “At the end of the day, our number one job is to take care of our communities and be embedded in our communities as a health network.”

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