A Violence Intervention Program With Roots In The Community, Where It Is Needed Most
The COVID pandemic has changed the world around us in almost every way, and for many communities across New Jersey it has amplified the effects and incidence of violence and trauma. Now more than ever, there is a need for innovative grass-roots programs to assist victims of violence.
Project HEAL (Help, Empower and Lead) is a community-based partnership dedicated to providing meaningful assistance, resources and tools for those affected by violence to change and improve their lives. We focus on immediate needs, but also shining a light on pathways for people to end cycles of violence and despair.
Our program is a new kind of collaboration bringing together expertise and resources from Hackensack Meridian Health, the largest healthcare network in New Jersey, stewardship from Attorney General’s Office of the State, and community and crisis groups.
Our Core Beliefs
- We listen and hear those that don’t have a voice or are not heard.
- We help those who feel abandoned and alone.
- We find passion and purpose where there is pain and despair.
- We strive to restore dignity and a sense that every life is precious, and every future can be brighter.
Our program is based in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Health and Jersey Shore University Medical Center, but our multi-disciplinary team is based right in the communities we serve, communities whose needs are not always seen and heard.
Project HEAL’s mission is based on the understanding that violence is all too often cyclical. National data overwhelmingly shows that those who experience a violent injury are at increased risk of suffering another violent injury and, in the context of retaliatory gang or street violence, today’s victim may be tomorrow’s perpetrator.
The goal of Project HEAL is to break that cycle of violence by taking advantage of life-affirming moments at the patient bedside. By doing so, the Project HEAL team can help, empower and lead patients in changing the circumstances that may have contributed to the violence they experienced.
Who We Are
The Project HEAL team is passionate about being where the need is greatest, which is often on the front lines of care and in neighborhoods. Our team comes from all backgrounds and walks of life. Some of us are clinicians, some of us are peers who have experienced violence and “the ways of the street” ourselves, and all of us are committed to empowering those affected by violence.
Our multi-disciplinary team includes peers (who we refer to as “Violence Intervention Specialists”), case managers, counselors, nurse navigators, physicians, and many others. We also partner closely with other departments at Jersey Shore University Medical Center and other programs in the community to enable people to change their circumstances.
How We Help
When an individual affected by violence comes to our attention, we deploy a peer – someone who is from many of the same communities as our patients, has personally experienced violence in their past, and has been trained in bedside intervention. Our peer will connect and build trust with that person. At a moment of fear and uncertainty for the patient, our team is there to assist and comfort in ways that others may not be able to.
Project HEAL’s services do not end when the patient is discharged, or when the physical wound is dressed and bandaged. In some ways our relationship is just beginning.
Our peer immediately begins coordinating with the rest of the Project HEAL team to provide intensive case management and a “safety net” of services and support for the patient.
Those services include:
- Educational opportunities
- Healthcare coordination and navigation
- Housing supports and relocation services
- Job training and placement
- Patient advocacy
- Safety planning
- Social service and medical referrals
- Transportation support
360 Care and a Road Forward
We know that the impact of violence is often more than physical. The impact may be mental in the form of stress and trauma or take another form altogether. As a result, we recognize that healing from violence often requires more – in the form of counseling, educational opportunities, healthcare coordination and navigation, housing supports and relocation services, job training and placement, patient advocacy, safety planning, social services, and transportation – and so we are committed to doing exactly that for the patients we work with.
Additionally, the data is compelling that action is needed now. Studies have found that nearly 40% of those treated for a violent injury return to the hospital with another violent injury within five years and that nearly 20% of those treatment for a violent injury are dead of another violent injury within five years. This data underscores the importance of intervening early to break cycles of violence that may span generations. Studies similarly show that violence intervention programs like Project HEAL prevent further violence, promote healing, save lives and can have a profound impact on society by reducing the cost of crime and incarceration.
Serving During the COVID-19 Pandemic and Beyond
The pandemic has fortified and redoubled our commitment to doing this work. We remain open and are working with even greater urgency than before. The reason for that is simple. The economic dislocation, social isolation, and stress from the pandemic has only exacerbated the frequency and intensity of violence in many communities. As a result, we firmly believe that the need for our services has never been greater and, by extension, our commitment to doing it has never been stronger. Our doors are open.