Shock Trauma’s Violence Intervention Specialists Help Break the Cycle and Change Lives After Violent Injury

It’s heard in the news cycle pretty often in Baltimore – the victim of a gunshot wound or stabbing is taken to Shock Trauma, where they survive their injuries.

However, it’s NOT often you hear about what happens to these survivors. How are they recovering from their injuries, mentally and emotionally? What are our teams doing to help them get access to resources to avoid violent injury again?

That’s where Leonard Spain and David Ross come in.  They’re both Violence Intervention Case Managers at the University of Maryland Shock Trauma Center.  Anytime someone suffers a violent injury and survives their injuries at Shock Trauma, they are seen by Spain and Ross.

Spain and Ross work to connect victims of violence with resources to get them on the path to success – including employment and schooling opportunities, mental health support, legal assistance and more.

Cut from the Same Cloth

Leonard Spain grew up in West Baltimore and, as a young man, was involved in the drug trade.

“The population that we serve – I was them. I sold drugs, I was a victim of gun violence and I spent time in prison,” Spain says.

That time in prison is what caused Spain to change his way of seeing things. When he arrived home, Spain realized the lack of resources available to help people like him get back on their feet.

He went to several career and job centers, attended job fairs and tried to do everything he could to stay out of trouble. After working a temp job for minimum wage for three years, Spain knew he wanted more for him and his daughter.

He enrolled at Sojourner Douglass College and received his Bachelor’s Degree in Human Services. He always knew he wanted to get into violence intervention and came to Shock Trauma after an internship with the Baltimore City Health Department.

When approaching patients at the beside, Spain focuses on building a relationship with patients as the first step of starting the case management process.

“I try to let them know I am just like them, just not out on the streets anymore,” Spain says. “Sometimes I gotta pull my shirt up and say ‘I got bullet holes just like you.’”

Poetry in Motion

Ross, also a Baltimore native, is a spoken word artist by trade.  He was discovered by the Shock Trauma team after performing at an anti-violence rally at Mondawmin Mall.

At first, Ross was a volunteer with the hospital with another friend.  By commission, he would come and talk with victims of violence and worked with the peer support group.  He then rose to his current position.

Now, when Ross learns of a new potential client, he will get background information on social media and online court records before meeting with them at the bedside.

“I’ll have that information in the back of my mind, but my next step is to speak and have a conversation with them and get their perspective,” Ross says.

Ross says he likes to ask the clients what they would like to gain from the situation and what they see as barriers.

“It’s not an easy thing to get them to trust you, and I understand that completely,” Ross says. “We’re usually asking them to change major aspects of their lives – and it definitely has to be broken down so we can work on one thing at a time.”

Usually, Ross starts with helping his clients get registered for health insurance so they can get their medication and get healthy. Next, they tackle employment. If it’s a criminal record holding the client back, they work to see if anything can be expunged. If it’s the lack of formal education, he works to get them in a GED class to receive a high school diploma at the least.

“I try to remove the obstacles to get them from point A to B,” Ross says. “Then, once we get them to point B, we see what other obstacles we can remove to get them to C.”

Spain and Ross both acknowledge that they are asking their clients to make massive life changes with not many resources, but overall, know it’s worth the trouble in the long run.

Spain is getting his Master’s in Conflict Resolution in University of Baltimore, and Ross is working towards his Master’s in Social Work at the University of Maryland, Baltimore.

Learn more about Shock Trauma Center’s for Injury Prevention and Policy.

Trauma Surgeon Heals Patients and Their Violent Ways

R Adams Cowley Shock Trauma Center surgeon Dr. Carnell Cooper started the Violence Intervention Program (VIP) in 1998 after seeing victims of traumatic violent injury being treated, released, and readmitted months later due to another, often more serious, violent injury.

Seeing this caused Dr. Cooper to ask a simple scientific question: “How can we reduce the number of repeat victims of intentional violent injury coming through the doors of Shock Trauma every day?”

The VIP — an intensive hospital-based intervention program that assists victims of intentional violent injury, including gunshots, stabbings, and beatings — has done just that by providing victims assessment, counseling, and social support from a multi-disciplinary team to help them make critical changes in their lives.

Dr. Cooper was recognized by CNN as one its “CNN Heroes” in 2009 for his work with VIP. See the videos below to learn more.