Open Wounds: The Impact of Gun Violence in St. Louis - Part 3

Carol Daniel
February 07, 2018 - 7:57 am
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ST. LOUIS (KMOX) - Helen Sandkuhl is director of emergency room nurses at SSM Health - St. Louis University Hospital. It's not unusual for six or seven gunshot victims to be brought into the Level 1 trauma center each weekend. Too many, she says, have been there before. And she has seen it before -- like the man who came running into St. Mary's Hospital in East St. Louis years ago.

"He ran to the trauma room. He knew where the trauma room was because he had been shot three times before," Sandkuhl says. "That's very sad that a lot of these kids, they're not shot just once or two times, they're shot, you know, on multiple occasions."

Sandkuhl says having support from family and hospital leadership is key to nurses handling the trauma they see.

"People can say I’m tough, I can take it -- there's a breaking point for everybody."

Like that day in 1980 when a teenager carried a 4-year-old boy into her emergency room. The teen survived, but the 4-year-old did not. 

"I stood in that room and I bawled like a baby," Sandkuhl says. "And until the day I die, I will not forget this kid and the look on his face when they put him in my arms."

She says they're also mindful that the gunshot they must treat may not be the only issue.

"We get some people in that are under the influence of drugs and alcohol and, sometimes you can't be reasonable. So, that's when you have to have protective services available."

And there are concerns when there are multiple shootings, and large crowds wind up on the street outside the hospital. Keeping the emergency room open for other patients requires a plan in place to keep everyone safe.  

Sandkuhl says when heart attack or stroke victims come into the ER, it's standard for nurses to talk to them about lifestyle changes and healing.

But they don't talk to gunshot victims, at all.

"Especially if it's gang-related or if it's ... retaliation, we're afraid to talk about it," Sandkuhl says.

 She’d like to see someone say something to them before they're released in order to interrupt the cycle of violence. 

"That we actually say the word, you know, we need to talk about you being shot. And I’m not the police, I don't want any details, I'm not going to use this against you, but I don't want to see you back in here."

Recently, a St. Louis Children's Hospital program, Victims of Violence, expanded. It will pair social workers with children who have been shot, beaten or stabbed to work on risk reduction and coping skills. 

The St. Louis area hospital-based violence intervention program will add social workers at Barnes-Jewish, SSM Health - St. Louis University and SSM Health - Cardinal Glennon Children’s hospitals.