NJ Hospital Group Teaches Gang Awareness

John Commins, for HealthLeaders Media , February 14, 2011

"When one of them gets shot, or stabbed, or beaten up, where are they going to go? The ER. And the first people they are going to deal with are ER staff," he says.  

Chances are that injured gang member and his running buddies aren't looking for trouble at your hospital. You aren't a threat to them, and they need treatment. The problem is what happens if the rival gang shows up. Maybe they've got a wounded friend who needs treatment too. That's when things get dicey. "If you have reason to believe you have a gang member you may want to put them in a separate room. You may want to put them off to the side so they aren't in the main view of the general public," he says.

It sounds easy to "profile" a gang member. Maybe he's wearing red or blue clothes, or he's covered with tattoos, of flashing hand signals. Maybe there are five guys in the waiting room dressed like him. They might be gang members, or not. Unfortunately, there really isn't one iron clad signal that will announce the presence of a gangbanger. "Self admission alone isn't good enough. Just because you tell me you're a Blood that is not enough. You could be a wannabe," Riccardo says.

Instead, he says hospital staffs need to understand a wide array of clues and behaviors that could signal gang affiliation and if suspicions are aroused, call the police. "I emphasize, do not confront them or ask: 'what crew are you running with?'" Riccardo says. "I don't want hospital personnel to say anything in regards to gangs with someone you believe is in a gang. I'm just saying if you have reason to believe let somebody know and let them deal with it. It's a safety issue. If law enforcement comes to the hospital, they talk to the person and he isn't a gang member, so be it. I would rather be safe than sorry and have a violent incident in the ER."

Riccardo says the gang awareness program is something that could easily be replicated in other states, because there are gangs in every state in the union, "including Hawaii and Alaska."

You may even consider expanding the scope of the training to include domestic violence, which perhaps poses an even greater threat to patients, and providers if the angry spouse walks into the ER.

We cannot control much of what goes on outside of the hospital doors. It's hard enough to control who walks through the hospital doors, with 24/7 access to everybody required by Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act (EMTALA) and usually with no security screens to walk through. That's why it's imperative that hospitals have a plan in place to react to violence. Even better, provide staff with the tools to identify the potential for violence before it occurs.

John Commins is a senior editor with HealthLeaders Media.

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