A Toronto hospital has set up a program unique in Canada to give young people injured by guns better care, to make them aware they won’t come back in the ambulance…or end up in the morgue.
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“We have a responsibility to act and change our ways. We won’t be able to be there for the first injury, but we can intervene to prevent future injuries in our patients’ lives,” explains Dr.right Corey Freedman, Manager of the Trauma Center at Sunnybrook Hospital.
The BRAVE program started in 2020 in response to the steady increase in the number of gunshot wounds requiring treatment over the years. On average, they can receive from 3 to 7 such patients per week.
“Before we did the surgery, the person recovered from their injuries and they were discharged. […] But we’ve seen cases where the patient has come back, still injured,” explains Dr.right baron.
This is where social worker Michael Lewis comes in, who after stabilizing the person tries to connect with him or his loved ones. And sometimes it’s not easy.
“Many don’t trust the system and are therefore difficult to approach,” specifies Corey Freedman. And others who will be near death will be more inclined to think.
“Building trust is very important and showing that their needs always come first,” adds Michael Lewis.
Once the patient has agreed to participate in the program, the social worker will attempt to understand the risk factors that led to their being shot. He will therefore carry out several follow-up examinations over a period of 6 to 12 months.
But most of all, he will do whatever it takes to resolve these situations, whether it’s encouraging them to change their lives by going back to school, finding a job, leaving behind bad influences, or stopping using various substances.
“It needs more follow-ups, support and services to implement. It would also allow those clients to recognize that they matter, rather than treat them and send them home to help themselves, on their own,” said Michael Lewis.
A program that adapts
About 50 patients participate in the BRAVE program in Sunnybrook each year. The service could be expanded to other Toronto hospitals.
“It’s a program that could very well be transferred to integrate elsewhere. […] A doctor from Montreal who is interested in our work is always welcome to contact us. We’d love to share our experience with you,” says Corey Freedman.
“And it doesn’t have to be exactly the same, the program can be adapted to each city’s socio-economic reality,” he adds.
Young people driven by revenge and good looking
Too reckless street gang members in Montreal and Toronto trivialize violence and are driven by revenge and a desire to make a good impression on social media.
“I don’t want to say it was okay, but in my day at least there was a code of honor between criminals and the innocent weren’t teased. Today they have no moral code,” laments Marcell Wilson, a reformed gangster who once ran a major criminal organization.
He is now behind the organization One By One Movement, which tries to prevent violence in street gangs. He uses his experience to try and change things.
“In the past, conflicts weren’t settled with guns, we settled our scores without putting the public at risk. The only rule was never to interfere with the goal of making money,” says Wilson.
He is now collecting data to better understand what drives young people into crime. He and his collaborators have identified 36 risk factors, the first of which is poverty.
Two eyes for one eye
Social networks also take up a lot of space, influencing young people who go there to taunt one another and make demonstrations of power.
“One of the reasons violence has increased is that they prioritize revenge but do worse. It’s no longer an eye for an eye… it’s two eyes for an eye,” illustrates Louis March, who runs the organization Zero Gun Violence Movement.
“It’s an endless vicious circle,” he said. And we’re seeing younger and younger teenagers taking up arms.”
The phenomenon is also noticed in Montreal with practice score.
“If, for example, a person from a group is targeted, we react immediately. [chez le gang rival]. We’re going to go and score points,” Detective Sergeant Caroline Raza said in a September 2021 trial.
“In autumn 2020, a gentleman was injured in this connection. He has permanent damage to his legs, he will never walk again,” said the police officer.