Rodney Babb standing near emergency department door
Rodney Babb

One of the newest members of the trauma team at Penn Presbyterian Medical Center (PPMC) isn’t a surgeon, a nurse, or a social worker, but he could make just as big an impact for survivors of violent injuries. As PPMC’s first violence intervention specialist, Rodney Babb supports patients once they leave the hospital by helping them navigate all the challenges that can come with recovery.

Babb, who graduated Penn State University with a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice, has worked as a counselor with high school students and survivors of domestic violence. But perhaps his most relevant credential is that he is a young Black man who grew up – and still lives – in West Philadelphia, like many PPMC patients.

“This position means a lot to me, being able to work with my community members, in my neighborhood, to give them the support that they don’t usually have,” Babb said. “Our goal is to provide a sense of hope.”

Babb first introduces himself to patients and their families while they’re in the hospital and offers weekly phone or video check-ins when they are discharged. He offers as much or little support as the patient wants. “I have a lot of young men on my caseload, and I let them know that it’s alright to feel what they’re feeling – sadness, guilt, or shame,” Babb said.

“I have people that I meet with weekly or biweekly, and there are some people that just need help with one thing and then they don’t need my support. Everyone is different.”

Besides offering emotional support to patients after discharge, Babb serves as a bridge to the community and social services agencies throughout the city. He might assist a patient in replacing a stolen or confiscated driver’s license, for example, or find employment leads for a survivor who used to work in construction and, due to his injuries, can’t return to that job.

“We do great for our patients while they’re here, but they’re really struggling after they go home. The physical, mental, and social consequences of a violent injury are very profound,” said Elinore Kaufman, MD, MSHP, an assistant professor of Trauma Surgery and Babb’s supervisor. “The goal with a position like Rodney’s … is someone who has some shared background with our patients and an extraordinary ability to build a strong and supportive connection.”

It has only been a few months, but Babb’s impact is already being felt, Kaufman said. “While we’re not at the point where we can assess any sort of long-term outcomes, our patients have been responding to him really positively. He has been connecting with people and getting through to people who are sometimes pretty challenging to reach,” Kaufman said. “The same has been true on the side of our staff; each new person that I get to tell about this opportunity immediately recognizes the need.”

The role is funded by a grant from the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency. Kaufman hopes that the hospital will be able to continue the initiative beyond the grant period (which ends in April 2023) and expand the program further. While hospital-based violence prevention programs have the potential to reduce rates of repeat violent injuries, Kaufman said her primary goal is to help patients meet their own goals.

“If our patients 6 to 12 months down the road tell us, ‘I’m feeling pretty good,’ or ‘I’m feeling recovered,’ and we can measure that,” Kaufman said, “that’s what I’m aiming for.”

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