INDIANAPOLIS — Many patients who survive gunshot injuries endure longterm repercussions, including physical and mental health impacts. The trauma doesn’t just disappear when a person is discharged from the hospital.

“We serve a unique role, too, in that we come into the patient’s life in a teachable moment. It would be silly for us to just medically treat the patient and send them on their way,” said Tiffany Davis, injury prevention coordinator at IU Health Methodist Hospital.

With this in mind, Davis is helping lead a new violence intervention pilot program at the hospital, which aims to assess the needs of gunshot survivors and connect them with the appropriate resources. Under her oversight, two graduate students are working to help increase the capacity to do this.

“At this point in time we’re not screening those who come in with a gunshot wound that is self-inflicted,” said Davis. “We have a behavioral health team that will step in if a suicide attempt or a self-inflicted gunshot wound is seen. Where we lack is where we have unintentional shootings and assault-homicides.”

The program is working to connect with as many survivors of these injuries as possible. If someone with a gunshot wound comes to the hospital and is identified as eligible for the program, the team will work to visit them bedside. Most times patients are admitted by the time the team is able to get their file and connect to them, however, they may also meet them in the emergency department, if needed.

“They will assess their needs for risk for PTSD and risk for depression. I want to make sure I’m careful in my wording because we’re not diagnosing them with PTSD or depression,” said Davis.

Davis said they are using a validated screening tool known as the Injured Trauma Survivor Screen (ITSS) to assess patients’ risk for PTSD and depression.

Since last month, the program screened 17 gunshot wound patients and identified 14 people at-risk for developing PTSD, according to IU Health. Of the group screened, 15 people were linked to outside community resources for assistance with food, jobs and housing needs.

The program isn’t under grant funding, something they do hope to apply for in the near future, so those involved in it, including the two graduate students, are doing it for free. Currently, the team is able to connect the community to the many existing resources.

“What we do know is that social determinants of health and mental health are correlated to risk for violence,” Davis explained.

Through the program, Davis and her team meet with gunshot survivors and follow up with them at two and four weeks to ask how they are doing and check in.

“In a perfect world, we would get to them younger in life or before they were ever affected by violence, and we would address those social determinants of health, mental health and trauma and create that nurturing environment before they were ever in this situation in the first place,” said Davis.

Even though the program operates in the intervention, rather than prevention stage for a gunshot survivor, Davis said it gives them an opportunity to reduce their risk factors, while also increasing protective factors to give a patient a stronger foundation for success moving forward.

Some of the risk factors she is speaking of include transportation, food, shelter, economic factors like jobs, employment and education, as well as legal needs multi-services, which is why they are making sure they work to follow-up after a patient also leaves the hospital.

Sometimes, Davis said, what a gunshot survivor may need could be something like assistance with paperwork to connect them to resources — something they’re more than glad to help with for eligible patients.

She said their team understands the importance of earning trust from people, especially if they’ve just endured a traumatic injury and are in a vulnerable state.

“The way to do that is to address their most pertinent needs at the moment in time,” said Davis.

Although they could need 10 different resources at the very moment, Davis said it’s important for them to ask themselves, “What is the first thing they need today? How about tomorrow when they return home?”

“I think that’s why the follow up is so important to because some of them, they’re inundated with information while they’re in the hospital, they are given lots of paperwork, lots of information, and then they go home and they’re like ‘I don’t even know what to do with all of this,’ so sometimes it just sits on a table,” she explained.

While the program is still in its infancy stages, Davis said they hope it will become a solution to the violence impacting too many people. Eventually, she also hopes they will be able to provide more services to assist families of gunshot victims as well.

The program is expecting to go through the end of the year if all goes according to plan. It’s shaping up to be another busy year for Methodist Hospital, where staff said it is unusual if they go one or two days without seeing a person injured by gunfire.

The hospital has experienced an increase in gunshot victims, treating 332 gunshot wounds in 2021, up from 288 in 2020 and 204 in 2019.

“Following up with them I think can go a long way and hopefully we see that in our data,” said Davis.

The model for this program follows the lead of similar programs in the area, including Eskenazi Health’s program, Prescription for Hope, which works to tackle trauma and violent crime specifically in Indianapolis.

“Eskenazi does this work and has done this work for many years,” said Davis. “What we’re doing is not new and innovative by any means, it’s just we’ve never done this either. So, I think it’s speaking volumes to what’s going on in our community, saying even Methodist is now coming on board with programs like this.”

She added, “I want to give the hats off to Eskenazi, too, in that the services do exist and we have seen the benefit of it and that’s why I knew we needed to get Methodist involved as well.”