Christine Stuart / ctnewsjunkie
Andrew Woods and Steve Harris (Christine Stuart / ctnewsjunkie)

HARTFORD, CT – Lawmakers and policy experts gathered Monday to hear about the various gun violence prevention measures and community resources in the 06120 – which is one of the poorest zip codes in the state.

“The only difference between us and Flint, Michigan is we got clean water,” Steve Harris, a retired fire captain, said of his 06120 neighborhood in Hartford’s north end

Harris told the group of experts and officials gathered, “We don’t need your sympathy. We need your help. Give us the tools to fight with.”

One of the ways the community has been dealing with the trauma caused by gun violence is through the “Hospital-Based Violence Intervention Program.”

Andrew Woods and Carl Hardrick are two of just a handful of individuals who have provided 24/7 crisis response and clinical care to over 820 victims and their families and loved ones since 2004.

Woods and Hardick are part of the Hartford Care Response Team. they are certified and trained through the Health Alliance for Violence Intervention, which recognizes violence as a public health issue.

The team shows up at the hospital to offer emotional support to gunshot victims and their families in an effort to help break the cycle of violence and prevent retribution, and to help affected people get back to their lives.

There is research that shows violence can spread like any other contagion. The Hartford Care Response Team is there to stop it. 

Dr. C. Steven Wolf of Saint Francis Hospital said the staff were skeptical of calling on the Hartford Care Response Team initially. Staff quickly embraced the team when they saw how these experts were able to diffuse volatile situations in the waiting room and outside the hospital to prevent retribution.

Christine Stuart / ctnewsjunkie
Fatimah Muhammad, executive director of (Christine Stuart / ctnewsjunkie)

Fatimah Muhammad, executive director of the Health Alliance for Violence Intervention, said the hospital provides a critical moment for intervention. She said it’s the heart of their model because it provides the basis for how an individual decides to move forward with their life in the immediate aftermath of gun violence.

Statistically, almost 41% of individuals who were injured with a firearm will be re-injured within five years of their first injury, Muhammad said. Individuals who participate in these programs following their injury are four times less likely to be convicted of a violent crime.

“The violence prevention professional is the bedrock. They are the heart of this because they are the ones who are working on an interdisciplinary team alongside social workers and doctors,” Muhammad said.

However, these individuals who intervene at the hospital rarely get paid for their services, which continue for as long as is necessary.

New Jersey recently approved $20 million in state funding for a Hospital-Based Violence Intervention Program at specific hospitals.

Muhammad said she understands states are facing deficits, but the federal government also has about $11 billion available from the Victims of Crime Act.

Sen. Doug McCrory, D-Hartford, said the General Assembly is about to vote on a settlement Wednesday that locks in payments from the state to the hospitals for the next seven years.

The settlement requires the state to pay Connecticut’s hospitals $1.8 billion over seven years.

McCrory said he would like to see what New Jersey passed and whether he can include similar language in legislation the General Assembly will vote on Wednesday.

“It may or may not be too late. Nothing is impossible,” McCrory said.

House Majority Leader Matt Ritter, D-Hartford, said he’s been looking at how Pennsylvania now allows for insurance coverage of these types of services. He said Connecticut should also explore similar ways to make sure these services are covered, even if it means paying a little more in premiums.

The General Assembly only has jurisdiction over about 30% of the health insurance market in Connecticut.

Christine Stuart / ctnewsjunkie
Rep. Matt Ritter and Sen. Doug McCrory (Christine Stuart / ctnewsjunkie)

Ritter also said he wants to know how much federal funding Connecticut gets for violence prevention to see if the state is “maximizing federal resources.”

“We have budget problems. I admit that, but every dollar we get from the federal government it’s one less dollar that’s coming out of our pockets,” Ritter said.

He said he wants to investigate how to increase Medicaid reimbursement for these services.

At one point during Monday’s meeting the group cheered news that for the first time in two decades Congress secured $25 million to fund gun violence research.

There’s been other momentum at the federal level on expanded background checks for gun purchases.

U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy, who has been leading the fight, said Monday that they came very close to getting a deal this summer.

“I had a number of Republicans approach me and say they were willing to change their position on background checks if a compromise bill came before the Senate,” Murphy said. “We were close to getting this done. My hope is that we need one more election.”

One more election would make it clear “that the NRA just doesn’t have the power that it used to,” Murphy said. “That might be the final piece to get something done.”

He said background checks aren’t enough, but a vote on background checks would prove to Republicans that their life didn’t end by voting against the NRA. He said they would actually benefit politically.

“The passage of background checks is the political key that will unlock more Republican support on other measures down the line,” he added.