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UofL Health sees uptick in gunshot patients during COVID-19, community health workers there to help

"Being in a room yourself and not really knowing what's going to happen next, you just have to offer that level of support."

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — University of Louisville Hospital's trauma team is seeing an increase in gunshot wound patients during the COVID-19 pandemic.

With temporary visitor restrictions in place because of COVID-19, UofL Health has a partnership with community health workers who are there to support victims when their family are not able to.  

"I kept saying 'Who's that girl?' because I woke up to assistance and I thought my family maybe knew her," Martina Rawlings said about community health worker, Kiara James. 

Rawlings was shot six times in July 2019. She was in critical condition for weeks, but the moment she woke up she saw who she described as her guardian angel.

“That’s how I looked at it. She was my family friend, she helped us throughout everything we needed and she was always there throughout everything we needed," Rawlings said.

Kiara James is one of three community health workers at UofL. She supported Rawlings throughout her recovery journey.

"Having that person just care and come back and just check on them is that important piece in someone's recovery," James said. 

The UofL partnership started in 2016. Community health workers play a vital role in hospital-based violence intervention by supporting patients with community resources and care even after they leave the hospital.

"With the coronavirus, patients who are effected by a gunshot or stab wound can't have any family members," James said. "I feel like it's more important for us to be there for these patients because we have to offer that support."

UofL saw about 38 patients with gunshot wounds between March 16, 2019 and April 13, 2019. 24 of the patients were due to interpersonal violence. Between March 16, 2020 and April 13, 2020, UofL had 64 patients with gunshot wounds. 54 of them were due to interpersonal violence, six of which have died.

"I personally want anyone going through that type of drama or experience to have that same experience," Rawlings said. "Recovery road was kicking my butt, but I'm finally starting to win."

The coronavirus has made it challenging for community health workers to spend time with victims, but with the help of video calls and PPE, they are able to be in the room and check on patients so they are not alone.  

"[The patients] don't know what's going on," James said. "We can at least be that level of support to either get answers or to be that conversation because being in a room yourself and not really knowing what's going to happen next, you just have to offer that level of support."

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