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“Hospitals around the country have an obligation to train a generation of healthcare workers, physicians, nurses, social workers, to view gun violence as a major public health crisis – perhaps the public health crisis of our generation.”
These were the words of Dr. Cornelia Griggs, one of the panelists at the Transforming Narratives of Gun Violence documentary screening and discussion, hosted by the Gillian Reny Stepping Strong Center for Trauma Innovation at Brigham and Women’s Hospital on April 11. The event was part of “A Week of Hope and Healing,” commemorating the tenth anniversary of the Boston Marathon bombings in the lead-up to the 127th Boston Marathon on April 17.
Dr. Griggs, a critical care surgeon at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), co-authored a 2017 essay in the New England Journal of Medicine called “The Quiet Room,” a phrase applied in the medical field to the room where surgeons inform parents that their children have died, too often as a result of gun violence. . Five years later, the piece inspired the short documentary Quiet Rooms, co-created by Emerson College students alongside community members who have been directly impacted by gun violence in Boston.
“When the class decided that they wanted to make a piece called Quiet Rooms, it was the first time that I felt like my writing meant something,” Dr. Griggs continued. “The class made that piece come alive – what we wrote is obsolete now.”
The panel, moderated by Louis D. Brown Peace Institute (LDBPI) President and CEO Chaplain Clementina Chéry, included a variety of perspectives on the issue of gun violence and the production of the films. In addition to Dr. Griggs, Kate Haskins from MGH and Rahsaan Peters from Brigham and Women’s Hospital shared from their perspectives as violence intervention advocates within the hospital setting. Ruth Rollins, mother and founder of the organization We are Better Together, and LeeAnn Taylor, mother, activist, and direct collaborator with the Emerson class who produced Quiet Rooms, both shared from their personal experiences as survivors of homicide victims. Emerson College professor and Engagement Lab Director, Eric Gordon, spoke to the collaboration production of Quiet Rooms.
All seven participants were involved in the creation of Quiet Rooms or the shorter documentary Before the Bullets — a conversation with medical professionals about their hopes for the future of gun violence prevention – which was also screened as part of the event.
After the screening of both films, the panelists gave personal and honest responses about their own experiences with gun violence, the creation of the films, and the systemic issues that must be addressed to transform the narrative of gun violence.
Ruth Rollins, who founded the organization We Are Better Together in 2017, highlighted the importance of using trauma-informed language in addressing families on both sides of the gun.
“Being a mother that has a child that was murdered, and also has a child that was incarcerated, I bring both of my children into space,” said Rollins. “If we're really going to interrupt the cycle of violence and address it in a holistic approach, language is really, really important. When we use that language, ‘perpetrator’ or ‘offender’ – and I struggle with it, you know, because my background is in domestic violence and that’s what we used, but then in my community lens . . . I know if someone called my son a ‘perpetrator’ or ‘offender,’ it impacts me. And if we’re talking about healing, I think our language needs to change.”
LeeAnn Taylor, whose son Daniel P. Taylor was murdered in 2013, spoke to the importance of standardized treatment.
“I feel what's good for me should be good for anybody. Everybody’s child is different. We need to change the system for everybody.”
“No two survivors are the same,” added Chéry, who urged medical leadership to adopt trauma-informed practices as part of the hospital system’s standard of care. “When something becomes [part of the] standard of care, that’s when accountability comes in, right? If it’s not within the system, it’s [dependent upon] individuals, on caring people, and we have to be hustling for funding. It’s not sustainable.”
Hospitals and other health care institutions have an important role to play in ensuring support for victims of gun violence and their families. When asked what more hospitals can be doing, Kate Haskins spoke to the importance of avoiding additional harm, as well as to leveraging the power of the hospital as an institution to make a difference.
“People are already struggling enough, they’ve had a very traumatic experience, and to compound that by being a system that doesn’t necessarily care, or understand, or want to – I just think is one of the biggest shortcomings of us as a hospital system,” said Haskins We try to advocate, we try to speak on behalf of our families, we try to work with law enforcement, but also maintain the fact that we are health care facilities. We are not here to decide who was in the wrong. We want somebody to get better, or to support the family the best way we can.”
Violence intervention and advocacy programs (VIAP) within hospitals are often working directly with community partners to fill gaps in the healthcare system. Rahsaan Peters spoke to the importance of improving funding to sustain this interconnected ecosystem of care:
“We want to make sure the people who are working with the community [within the hospital system] are getting the utmost support, and also the community partners and programs that are working with our hospitals and advocates, making sure they get the right funding and support moving forward,” said Rahsaan Peters.
As the event came to a conclusion, Eric Gordon spoke to how the conversation has shifted in the years since “The Quiet Room” was published:
“Institutions are historically terrible listeners,” said Gordon. “But what we’re seeing now is at least a nod to listening better, and that’s happening through a recognition that [institutions] actually need to involve communities who understand the issues into the process of problem solving. That’s not fringe anymore – we are here in a hospital having this conversation, and it’s mainstream… We’re in a different moment, and we need to hold onto that moment, grasp that moment and understand the opportunity we have to make real systemic change in the institutions we occupy and encounter on a daily basis.”
Chaplain Clementina Chéry also sees reason for optimism: “We know these are not easy questions, [but] we know the solutions are there. And only when we’re having these honest and authentic conversations, and pushing the needle forward, can we impact policy that’s sustainable.”
Building a strong team of people dedicated to this work has great value in fueling the desire for change. Dr. Cornelia Griggs put it this way: “There are days when it’s hard to give oxygen to hope, so you have to surround yourself with people that you know are coming to this work from a place of purpose.”
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