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NJ Hospital Group Teaches Gang Awareness

John Commins, for HealthLeaders Media, February 14, 2011

Here's a pop quiz on street gang affiliation: Can you tell the difference between a Crip and a Blood, or a Latin King, a Neta, an Aryan Brother, a Pagan, or an MS13? More importantly, can your staff identify a gang banger when he walks through the doors of your emergency department seeking treatment, or helping a wounded "posse" member with a work-related injury?

So far, we appear to have dodged a bullet – literally and figuratively -- on the issue of gang violence spilling into the hospitals. Violence, however, is intrinsic with street gangs, and there is an uneasy fear that at some point, somewhere, rival gangs seeking treatment for their injured friends could confront one another in the emotionally charged confines of an emergency department.

Police estimate that there are hundreds of thousands of gang members of every race and ethnicity in every state in the union. That being the case, it's probably a good idea to provide staff with education on street gangs, how to spot them, and how to respond when they're in your ED to defuse potential violence. 

Since 2007, hospital and law enforcement officials have been preparing for that contingency. The New Jersey Hospital Association has worked with the state's Parole Board to offer a one-day crash course called "Gang Awareness Training for Healthcare Workers."

Mary Ditri, director of professional practice NJHA, said the hospital trade group decided to address the issue before a violent gang-related incident occurred. "We know this is something our communities struggle with, gang violence, and it's not going away," Ditri says. "The training is really not geared to have healthcare workers do things they shouldn't be doing. It's geared toward giving them the tools they need to help them do what they do better, focusing on environmental safety for the patients, their families and the providers and their colleagues."

Lt. Daniel Riccardo, Field Coordinator for New Jersey State Parole Board Street Gang Unit, has brought gang awareness to dozens of hospitals across the Garden State. "I couldn't give you an exact number statewide of how many gang members there are in New Jersey. Let's put it this way: a lot," Riccardo says. "They should all be considered a threat because they have a violent nature that can come out at any given time."

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