Officials with the Jefferson County Department of Health have secured more than $1 million for a program designed to help victims of violent crime avoid future attacks as the county grapples with soaring homicide rates.
Funding will go to a local non-profit that will assist hospitalized gunshot survivors with holistic recovery and prevention of repeat violence.
Jefferson County Health Officer Dr. Mark Wilson announced the program Tuesday at the annual public health address delivered in partnership with the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Public Health. Wilson touched on several different topics during the 40-minute address, including COVID-19, drug overdose deaths and racism.
In 2019, officials from the county health department and City of Birmingham declared gun violence a public health crisis. The number of homicides and gunshot injuries has increased since then. Jefferson County had 213 homicides last year. Hospitals treated 666 people with gunshot injuries in 2021, Wilson said.
Homicide is the leading cause of death for Black men between the ages of 18 and 44 in Jefferson County, Wilson said. Murder rates have risen in cities across the country after falling between 2000 and 2015. The number of murders in Jefferson County is now as high as it was 25 years ago.
Alabama has the nation’s second-highest rate of gun violence, according to the gun control advocacy group Everytown for Gun Safety. An average of 1,054 people Alabamians die from gunshots and another 3,422 are wounded, according to the report. Gun homicides account for about 468 of those deaths every year.
Many people with non-fatal gunshot wounds will get shot again and some will die in homicides, Wilson said. Hospital Violence Intervention Programs use specially trained staff to try to break the cycle of violence and protect victims who may be at risk after discharge. In addition to providing safer housing away from dangerous situations, these workers can help patients get access to support services such as job training and educational resources.
According to the Health Alliance for Violence Intervention, there are about 40 existing hospital violence intervention programs. Wilson said the county has not selected a contractor to operate the violence intervention program.
This article appeared originally on www.al.com
Updated at 9:59 on 4/6/2022 to clarify title