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VCU Health's "Bridging the Gap" program awarded part of $5 million grant for hospital-based community violence intervention initiatives

The funding will allow VCU Health to serve victims of violence in the Richmond area and to expand educational and training opportunities to support other violence intervention programs throughout the commonwealth.

Psychiatrist or professional psychologist counseling or therapy session to male patients suffering from mental health problems. More than 1, 950 patients have participated in Bridging the Gap since the program started in 2003. (Getty Images)

Bridging the Gap, a VCU Health program geared toward community violence intervention at the bedside and in the community, was among the six recipients of a $5 million grant to sustain the work of hospital-based community violence intervention programs (HVIPs) in Virginia.

Bridging the Gap, which is a part of VCU Health’s Injury and Violence Prevention program (IVPP), is an evidence-based program and a national model that provides services to Richmond area youth and adults who have been admitted to VCU Medical Center for intentional injuries such as gunshot wounds, stab wounds and assaults. The program focuses on this population with the goal of reducing the rate of re-injury, and subsequent health care demands and costs often associated with violent injuries, by providing the participants and their families with the services required to break the cycle of violence and reintegrate positively in the community.

Originally started in 2003, Bridging the Gap has seen incredible success in changing the life trajectory of participants. So far, more than 1, 950 patients have participated in the program. Research has shown that Bridging the Gap participants reduce reinjury rates by 76%, meaning those who have experienced gun violence in the Richmond area and enroll in the program are significantly less likely to be readmitted to the hospital for gun violence. Additionally, program participants have reduced their use of alcohol and drugs by more than half, all while seeking appropriate hospital and community services such as mental health assistance.

“For a long time, people have viewed trauma centers as the place that people go once they get shot, as the end of the path,” said Michel Aboutanos, M.D., medical director of the VCU Medical Center Level I trauma center. “That is not the case. Through Bridging the Gap, we have redefined the role of the trauma center. Not only are we treating patients from a clinical perspective, but we're intervening in the hospital and offering direct services and connecting patients and their families with resources and support with our partners in the community.”

In addition to supporting and helping to coordinate appropriate follow-up health care after discharge, Bridging the Gap provides survivors of violence and their families with intensive case management services in home and community settings. This continued engagement connects them with resources to help with housing, enrolling in educational and vocational programs, assisting in finding positive social outlets and accessing mental health services.

“We recognize that a hospital is not just a building with medical equipment; it is a cornerstone of a thriving community,” said Michael Elliott, chief operating officer of VCU Health. “We are proud of the work of our IVPP initiatives and Bridging the Gap. Our mission goes beyond providing medical care; it extends to fostering a culture of health, compassion, and resilience and that’s what the programs are all about.”

The grant is administered by the Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services (DCJS) to the Virginia Hospital & Healthcare Association (VHHA) Foundation. The funding will, in part, allow VCU Health to continue to serve as a technical assistance center, providing training and support for other programs throughout the state to develop and execute similar HVIPs.

“The partnership between VHHA Foundation and IVPP is fundamental to mitigate the public health crisis of gun violence in the commonwealth,” Aboutanos said. “We are excited to share what we have learned over the past decade and help other hospitals and trauma centers develop their own HVIPs.”

The $5 million is the largest grant award in VHHA Foundation history. It went into effect on July 1, 2023, and will be distributed over the course of two years.

“Four years ago, there was only one community violence HVIP in Virginia, and Dr. Aboutanos and his team agreed to partner with VHHA Foundation to lend their experience and expertise to help launch more hospital-based programs in communities impacted by violence,” said Kelly Cannon, CEO of VHHA Foundation. “None of this would be possible without the leadership of Dr. Michel Aboutanos and the VCU Health Injury and Violence Prevention Program.”