As the gun violence epidemic continues to grip the nation and communities, Jamaica Hospital Medical Center and three local Cure Violence organizations are partnering to address the public health issue and make a commitment to end gun violence in the community.
During a formal ceremony on Monday, June 13, founders of King of Kings Foundation, Life Camp and Sheltering Arms Children and Family Services-Rock Safe Streets each signed a landmark agreement with Jamaica Hospital to work together to prevent violence and assist in protecting the health of patients and community members.
The collaboration between the hospital and the organizations comes amid Gun Violence Awareness Month, as communities rally for stronger gun laws following the recent shootings that occurred in Buffalo, New York, and Uvalde, Texas.
“This agreement is an important step in the right direction to address the crisis of gun violence in our community. As a hospital that operates the busiest Level 1 Trauma Center in the city and cares for a disproportionately large number of gun violence patients, we know firsthand the impact and ripple effects it causes to victims, their loved ones and communities,” said Bruce Flanz, Jamaica Hospital president and CEO.
In the scope of the agreement, Jamaica Hospital will designate employees who will support the provision of anti-violence and violence interruption services by responding to referrals of traumas associated with gun violence.
These designated employees will also assist in coordinating the visitation of responders (individuals appointed by Cure Violence groups) with patients and loved ones, with their consent and as authorized by the law. Responders’ duties include conducting follow-up visits during the inpatient stay with identified hospital patients, upon a determination by Jamaica Hospital that the patient is stable.
Responders will provide supportive services such as mediation, conflict resolution and service referrals to assist in the prevention of re-injury to these patients or to prevent retaliation connected to gun violence incidents.
Additionally, Jamaica Hospital and Responders will work together to provide coordinated care and integrative support to victims of gun violence.
At Jamaica Hospital, the rise in gun violence became evident in 2020 after the initial surge of the COVID-19 pandemic; the number of patients treated for gun violence-related incidents increased by 223% between 2019 and 2020, according to Flanz.
This dramatic spike prompted the hospital’s Trauma Division to create the Violence Elimination and Trauma Outreach (VETO) program in the spring of 2021.
“The VETO program works to identify victims of gun violence and provide comprehensive coordinated and integrative care to survivors,’ said Dr. Katherine McKenzie, Jamaica Hospital Trauma medical director. “We are confident that our partnership with King of Kings, Life Camp and the Sheltering Arms Children and Family Services – Rock Safe Streets program will expand on the outreach work being done in our community to address gun violence, a growing public health crisis.”
Lance Feurtado, executive director of the King of Kings Foundation, an organization that informs youth about the dangers of guns, drugs and gang violence and lack of education, credited the work of their team members who are on the ground daily assisting the community.
“This is a partnership and we want everyone to understand that this takes a collective effort — we all are individuals, but we are seen as first. We are about saving lives and are pro lives,” Feurtado said. “We dare to lay down our lives, so our future leaders can have a future. We have no bulletproof vests, but God has blessed us as credible messengers to get in front of those retaliations and de-escalating retaliations.”
An internationally recognized and widely respected peacemaker, Erica Ford, founder of Life Camp Inc., who has been at the forefront of reducing youth and community violence in New York, reflected on the many nights spent at Jamaica Hospital comforting families and their loved ones impacted by gun violence.
“This is a journey. There are many lives who have come through those doors and have not made it out. As [Borough President] Donovan Richards talked about that summer of killing out here in southeast Queens and the police told us, there’s no way we will stop that beef, but we stopped the retaliation because we were in the right place at the right time,” Ford said. “We’re not the police and we don’t want their job, but we want to talk to those young people who have rage in their heart and give those families who have pain in their heart, a space where they can feel human.”
Amy Wilkerson, vice president of Youth Services and After School at Sheltering Arms Children and Family Services, said one of the first things the organization noticed was that they needed a relationship with a hospital since they weren’t able to get in the door to assist families and their loved ones impacted by gun violence.
“There’s a saying better late than never, and we say better late than never. At this critical point in time of what’s going on in our city, this is the most valuable important thing that can happen to Queens,” Wilkerson said. “I want to thank our elected officials and Jamaica Hospital for making this happen.”
NYPD Chief Kevin Williams, the new commanding officer of Patrol Borough Queens South, said even though the NYPD is seeing a decrease in shootings in the community and throughout the city, “one person shot is one person too many.”
“We are going to continue to work with everybody here in the community. I’ve said time and time again, we cannot have effective policing without a relationship with the community,” Williams said.
Local elected officials such as Congressman Gregory Meeks, Senator Leroy Comrie, Queens District Attorney Melinda Katz and Borough President Donovan Richards, lauded the hospital’s partnership with the southeast Queens organizations.
Meeks, who has been a staunch advocate for gun violence prevention, announced providing an additional $2 million to Life Camp, King of Kings and Rock Safe Streets to continue combating violence in the streets.
“Families after these events are traumatized. They’re rushing to the hospital trying to figure out what happened to their loved ones. These three organizations know how to get into the community and get to these people,” Meeks said.
While announcing funding in this year’s state budget that helps to support people in places most impacted by a spike in gun violence, community safety and outreach programs, Comrie announced a personal allocation of $1 million to help Ford build a much-needed community center in Jamaica.
As New York State recently passed legislation strengthening gun laws, Katz said her office is doing everything it can to get guns off the streets.
According to Katz, her office has collected almost 400 guns at gun buyback events and collected almost 200 ghost guns that are being built in basements of apartment buildings, apartments and houses.
While reflecting on his best friend, Darnell Patterson, who was shot and killed in South Jamaica, Richards said it’s about “saving young Black and brown peoples’ lives.”
“I am always reminded of investing in these communities. I know about the work each and every one of these groups does every day,” Richards said. “We need to see Cure Violence expanded in every single corner of this borough. Those who are closest to the problem, are closest to the solution. To ensure we are really combatting this issue, communities have to have a major role in combating crime.”