As the rain cleared Sept. 6, hundreds of bright orange ribbons could be seen hanging on the branches of a tree on the corner of Penn and Lombard streets. The orange symbolized awareness of gun violence, and each ribbon represented a life lost to gun violence in Baltimore this past year. The ribbons were the backdrop of a news conference announcing the launch of the University of Maryland, Baltimore’s (UMB) Center for Violence Prevention.
“We’re confident that taking a research-based approach is the answer,” UMB President Bruce E. Jarrell, MD, FACS, said in his opening remarks. “Using our resources combined with the families and communities affected by violence is how we begin to start solving this problem.”
Bringing together the expertise and resources of two of Baltimore’s major anchor institutions — UMB and the R Adams Cowley Shock Trauma Center at the University of Maryland Medical Center — trauma surgeon Thomas M. Scalea, MD, and Jarrell announced the creation of the Center for Violence Prevention to help reduce and respond to violence in Baltimore City and beyond.
“We want this to grow and become a focal point for violence prevention efforts in a much, much larger way,” said Scalea, the Honorable Francis X. Kelly Distinguished Professor of Trauma Surgery, director of the Program in Trauma at the University of Maryland School of Medicine (UMSOM), and physician-in-chief at Shock Trauma. “Taking care of [more than] 600 people shot this year is emotionally exhausting. It’s taxing. It’s discouraging. It’s everything you can imagine.
“If a patient comes in with a lethal anatomic injury or if they come in with their heart no longer beating, we’re out of the game," added Scalea, who will lead the center. "There’s nothing we can do to fix that problem. The only fix for that problem is to not have it happen, and this is what today is all about.”
Scalea has led Shock Trauma, which delivers more trauma care than any other institution in the United States, for 25 years. He championed the concept of the “golden hour” that has defined modern trauma care and is globally recognized as a pioneer in trauma-related care. He also leads UMSOM’s Program in Trauma, which has led the way to major advances in trauma care through basic and clinical research and by providing educational experiences for medical students, residents, and fellows, as well as for nurses and other health care providers who come to train from all over the world.
The announcement of the Center for Violence Prevention hit home for Liza Holley, a Baltimore City community member who lost her son to violence in the city last year.
“As a grieving mother, it is very difficult for a doctor to tell a parent that their child is not coming home,” she said. “It’s extremely difficult for a mom to hear those words. Parents are not supposed to bury their child, especially in a preventable death. I pray that another mother will not have to endure the pain of losing a child. Please, let’s stop the violence.”
The initiative will create an interdisciplinary approach to violence prevention and intervention, combining the expertise and clinical work of Shock Trauma and the University of Maryland schools of medicine, social work, and law. Dean of UMSOM and UMB Vice President for Medical Affairs Mark T. Gladwin, MD; University of Maryland School of Social Work Dean Judy L. Postmus, PhD, ACSW; and University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law Dean Renée McDonald Hutchins, JD, attended the news conference. They spoke about how each school plans to utilize its resources and experts to make this initiative successful.
Gun-related violence affects the United States every day and has become a national topic of conversation. According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 79 percent of homicides are committed with a firearm, and in 2020, more Americans died of gun-related injuries than in any other year on record.
Funded by a $2 million gift from Betsy Sherman and the Sherman Family Foundation, the center will bridge numerous research and clinical programs already in place at UMB that address violence and the social determinants of violence. With an interdisciplinary approach, the center will collaborate with communities, academic institutions, nonprofits, governmental bodies, corporations, and philanthropic organizations to advocate for informed policies and interventions toward violence prevention and creating social justice for all. The center will establish community-based partnerships to conduct research, develop creative and impactful education, and advocate for policies that strengthen our communities to prevent violence and trauma.
Violence prevention and justice for survivors of violence have long been high priorities at the Francis King Carey School of Law, Hutchins said.
“As Maryland Carey Law’s new dean, I am excited to build on this important work. And we are proud to have the opportunity to bring our expertise at the law school to bear on this interdisciplinary project with our UMB colleagues,” she said.
The law school has championed violence prevention through programs such as the UMB Rebuild, Overcome, and Rise Center, which assists low-income residents who have experienced, among other crimes, sexual and physical assaults, intimate partner violence, human trafficking, and gun violence; the Justice for Victims of Crime Clinic in which student attorneys provide representation and legal advice for survivors of violence; and the Center for Dispute Resolution, which operates the Mediation Clinic and School Conflict Resolution Education Program, supporting K-12 public schools throughout Maryland with peer mediation and restorative practices training and services for students, administrators, and teachers.
The School of Social Work also has made an impact on addressing violence through numerous programs such as the Positive Schools Center, Promise Heights, Family Connections, the Community Justice and Equity Incubator, the Eutaw Street Initiative, the Healing Youth Alliance, and the Community Collaborative on Intimate Partner Violence, Postmus said.
"This initiative is groundbreaking for Baltimore in the fact that it taps into the expertise of the entire campus,” she said. “We stand united to help address and resolve the ongoing violence that plagues so many of the communities we live and work in."
Gladwin, who also is the John Z. and Akiko K. Bowers Distinguished Professor at UMSOM, echoed his colleagues’ commitment to addressing gun violence.
“For the first time in U.S. history, more of our children under 20 years of age were killed this year from guns than from car crashes,” Gladwin said. “This highlights the simple fact that this is now a public health emergency that must be addressed with urgency. We are absolutely committed to our new Center for Violence Prevention taking on this generational challenge.”
UMSOM’s programs addressing this critical issue include:
- The Program in Trauma, the only multidisciplinary dedicated physician group practice that cares for injury in the United States
- Shock Trauma and Anesthesiology Research Center, one of the first centers in the U.S. dedicated exclusively to studying the prevention and treatment of trauma
- Emergency Preservation and Resuscitation, involving a groundbreaking clinical trial on a body-cooling technique in an attempt to save the lives of those who are in cardiac arrest and dying of a gunshot wound
- Center for Blood Oxygen Transport & Hemostasis, where researchers are developing an artificial red blood cell
- The National Center for School Mental Health, which has been directing efforts at preventing violence and mass shootings in schools by advocating for comprehensive threat assessments and mental health supports embedded into the school systems nationwide. It serves to strengthen policies and programs in school mental health and promote research into evidence-based practices that prevent violence in our schools.
For additional information, visit umaryland.edu/violence-prevention/.