UMMC scores millions in grant dollars to address gun, domestic violence issues

Published: Oct. 17, 2022 at 10:38 PM CDT
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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - Millions of dollars over the next five years will be coming to Mississippi’s only research hospital aimed at addressing two major issues Mississippi faces: gun and domestic violence.

“This is a public health crisis. Firearm injuries are the leading cause of mortality in young black men throughout the United States. And it’s particularly affecting the citizens of Jackson,” said Dr. Laura Vearrier, associate professor of emergency medicine at the University of Mississippi Medical Center.

At the state’s only Level 1 trauma center, she and her coworkers see the aftereffects of that gun violence firsthand.

“We see victims of firearm injuries, all too commonly, and it’s young people, and it’s absolutely devastating. And we can patch up holes and resuscitate them. But really, we want to do more,” Vearrier said.

Just two years ago, Mississippi had the highest mortality rate from firearms in the nation.

A 3 On Your Side analysis last year revealed Jackson’s homicide rate is the highest in the nation, with most victims dying from gun violence.

The $7.5 million grants from the National Institute of Health and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services will eventually establish a violence injury prevention program in Mississippi and help prevent domestic violence against women.

First, they have to develop what intervention techniques the community will respond to best.

“[This might include] programs to improve health literacy or improve access to care. Other programs might include something like mentorship for at-risk youth or after-school programs. And so then we’ll take these various different interventions, and we’re gonna employ them in different areas of the city, and then kind of determine whether that has any influence on long-term violence,” Vearrier said.

Dr. Matthew Morris, a clinical psychologist with UMMC’s Department of Psychiatry and Human Behavior, said they’ll also be researching what’s called intimate partner violence, which can involve physical assault, sexual assault, or even emotional or psychological abuse.

“We know that it’s pretty rare that these women get screened for substance use disorders. For intimate partner violence, research suggests something like 10 to 20% of providers will regularly screen for these conditions,” Morris said. “I think these providers feel a little helpless, and they don’t have a clear pathway for how to connect these women with resources that they may need if they do screen positive. What we’re trying to do here is to fill each of those gaps.”

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