Temple University Hospital's trauma outreach coordinator Scott Charles wants to do everything for young gunshot victims. Keeping them from returning to the emergency room is a good start.
It may mean reopening a rec center pool, extending the hours of the neighborhood library, cleaning up a trash-strewn lot, sealing up an abandoned house--all to convey the message: It was my kid today; it could be your kid tomorrow.
But there are those close to the raging gun violence who say the city desperately needs an organized response--a hotline number, a kind of Bat-signal.
Of the 500 gunshot patients who will be rushed to Temple University Hospital this year, only 150 will meet the age requirement for the PIRIS program.
Others will slip through the cracks because they're unconscious, unwilling, under arrest or discharged before Charles visits their room.
"We've had violence epidemics before--the gang era, the crack era--but our response to this one has been slow," says Dr. William King, vice president of Physicians for Social Responsibility.
Charles ties the upsurge in the city's gun violence to the February 2004 shooting death of 10-year-old Faheem Thomas-Childs, felled in a gun battle between drug dealers outside his school.
"When that happened, there was no meaningful response," he says. "The people in that community wanted to know that the city was outraged, that we were willing to unleash hell--and we weren't."
"We walked," he says, referring to the thousands of people who marched through Faheem's North Philadelphia neighborhood. "The very nature of our response was downtrodden. And even then, we rescheduled because of rain. We weren't committed enough to walk in the rain. So not only was our response weak, it was conditional."
King says part of the problem is a lack of organized leadership, politicians competing for power, and nonprofits competing for grants.
"The fundamental problem is we don't have the services and coordination," he says. "We are badly organized. If a mom is Googling for youth antiviolence programs and can't find your organization in three minutes, you can't help her or anybody else. And if she finds a million such organizations, what's she supposed to do with that?"
The cost of searching for a solution is great. Aside from the fact that a large number of Temple gunshot victims are uninsured, adding to the hospital's $86 million in unreimbursed healthcare, there's the priceless social cost of lost potential.
Of the 140 kids in the PIRIS program, eight will never walk again. In the group of young participants, there's a paraplegic, a quadriplegic and one person with brain injuries.
"Every time they pull a trigger, they're destroying their heritage," says PAAN's Morris. "At some point, as long as young black kids keep shooting young black kids, we're gonna run out of kids to kill."
Scott Charles calls one recent Tuesday the saddest day of his life.
Before his morning coffee, he enrolled two patients in the PIRIS program, one of them a young man who came in riddled with bullet holes from his waist to his feet.
As Charles talks to him in his hospital bed, the young man trembles and sobs. He realizes how close he came to death.
He has a teardrop tattoo for his slain 16-year-old cousin. And the friend who came to visit him, who urged him to use this as a wake-up call, was shot four days later.
Charles asks him how many people he knows who've been shot.
More than five? Ten? Twenty?
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