Victims, families and friends who go to hospital trauma centers immediately after violent acts will now have advocates working to support them and to help prevent future violence.

Under a partnership announced Thursday, YouTurn, a nonprofit that aims to deter violence in Omaha, has begun dispatching “street outreach workers” to designated trauma centers and emergency rooms operated by two Omaha health systems — Nebraska Medicine and CHI Health — when officials determine that they are needed.

YouTurn workers can help explain hospital procedures to family and friends, defuse tense situations and offer additional resources. The employees will be sent as needed to four hospitals that frequently treat patients who have been involved in incidents of violence: the Nebraska Medical Center, Creighton University Medical Center-Bergan Mercy, Immanuel Medical Center, and Creighton University Medical Center-University Campus near 24th and Cuming Streets.

“Today’s event truly does mark a monumental activity for us,” said Cecelia Creighton, YouTurn’s executive director.

Creighton said the workers have been trained in a national model called Cure Violence, which aims to stop the spread of violence in communities by treating it like an infectious disease. It was founded in the mid-1990s by Dr. Gary Slutkin, a professor of epidemiology and international health at the University of Illinois at Chicago’s School of Public Health.

In places where agencies have replicated the model, Creighton said, crime has been reduced between 50 percent and 70 percent.

Dr. Michel Wagner, a trauma surgeon at CUMC-Bergan Mercy, said he learned long ago that trauma is a social disease. He remembers one patient he treated as a fourth-year medical student. Before he left that rotation 28 days later, the patient was back.

A former emergency room physician who spent his career working in trauma centers, Dr. Daniel DeBehnke, CEO of Nebraska Medicine, said hospitals typically are working downstream, caring for victims of violence. By treating violence as a public health issue, they can try to work further upstream.

“What I really like about this partnership is it started here in this community,” he said.

Creighton said the program began in early April. Under agreements with the two health systems, YouTurn agrees to respond to requests for workers within an hour. YouTurn already has received some positive feedback about the program from patients’ family members.

YouTurn also is involved in school outreach and in a collaborative effort called Dusk to Dawn with Nebraska Medicine, the Omaha Police Department and Boys & Girls Clubs to show youths what happens to gunshot victims and their heartbroken family members inside the emergency room.

Omaha Police Officer Phil Anson, a department spokesman, said gang unit or street patrol officers will call YouTurn and give them information after a shooting. YouTurn then will decide whether to go to hospitals based on their own criteria.

Hospital security personnel also can activate outreach workers, officials said.

Dr. Cliff Robertson, CEO of CHI Health, said health care professionals understand firsthand the unhealthy conditions violence creates. Reducing the number of people suffering at the hands of violence, he said, will lead to a healthier community.

In addition to trauma and emergency staff from both health systems, City Council President Ben Gray, Councilman Pete Festersen, and Marty Bilek, chief of staff for Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert, attended Thursday’s announcement.

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Alia Conley covers breaking news, crime, crime trends, the Omaha Police Department and initial court hearings. Follow her on Twitter @aliavalentine. Phone: 402-444-1068.

Julie Anderson is a medical reporter for The World-Herald. She covers health care and health care trends and developments, including hospitals, research and treatments. Follow her on Twitter @JulieAnderson41. Phone: 402-444-1066.

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