When people in Baltimore become victims of violence they often have to tell their stories over and over — to police, forensic investigators, doctors, social workers, therapists.
And they often need to find their own way to all of those professionals if they want help after the traumatic event.
But as violence climbs across the region, a new center in Northwest Baltimore has begun providing all the follow-up services to survivors under one roof.
“When we do the warm handoff, it’s down the hall,” said Adam Rosenberg, executive director of the center and vice president of violence intervention and prevention for LifeBridge Health, which runs the center, and has several hospitals in and around the city.
“It’s all in one place,” he said of the Center for Hope, constructed in a building between Sinai Hospital of Baltimore and Pimlico Race Course in the Pimlico Good Neighbors neighborhood.
The center opened this month and will serve people who have survived sexual assault, domestic abuse, trafficking and gun violence. It also will serve abused children and older adults. It may be the first of its kind around the country and aims to prove a more comprehensive method of care is better for responding to violence and preventing more of it.
Rosenberg is a former prosecutor who ran Baltimore’s Child Abuse Center for years before it became part of the new Center for Hope. The center serves as an advocate for victims and a point of contact for investigations by city officials and police. While there, he found families were sometimes handed phone numbers or staff would struggle to line up other services, such as counseling, elsewhere after an initial meeting.
There are many places that serve survivors of violence, but most must limit their in-house focus and have narrow geographic boundaries. That, Rosenberg said, is a result of funding restrictions and long-running silos for services — not the dedication of workers to their clients.
The Center for Hope doesn’t aim to replace those groups. A few in the LifeBridge system were moved to the building and the center will take referrals from others, as well as from emergency rooms and police departments.
Rosenberg’s task remains large. He must show he can maintain the public funding and grants that make up the $7 million annual operating budget for the center, which aims to serve an estimated 6,000 victims, mostly from the city and Baltimore County. The biggest funding source is the U.S. Victims of Crime Act, though the state added funds this year to make up for a recent drop in federal money.
He also must show the center can viably offer a range of services regardless of when the need arises after the initial event. The center will provide forensic interviews, free or reduced-cost therapy, social services and some medical assessments, such as for kids going into foster care.
The idea sits well with T’Keyah Jackson, who began advocating for victims after her own trauma. She ended up in the Baltimore Child Abuse Center when she was 8 years old after her father abused her. Her mother saw Rosenberg on a television news program and sought help for her daughter.
Jackson is now grown, working for a nonprofit service organization and living in Baltimore County and planning her wedding. She credits the services she received, but always thought the system could be better.
“I had to tell my story time and time again to police and doctors and whoever else. It was a lot,” said Jackson, adding that not everyone she spoke with was trained to deal with an abused child.
“I’m not sure where I’d be if I didn’t have the immediate response,” she said. “But it would have been better if there was one place for me to feel safe, even if I had to be there for hours to talk to everyone.”
She stayed in touch with Rosenberg after her father’s trial and ended up on the Center for Hope’s advisory council. Among other things, she helped pick a butterfly-themed décor for the center that she hopes provides a calming and welcoming environment for adults and children, a place away from the chaos of a police department.
The new center will have dedicated room for police officers, in addition to space for medical staffs and counselors. There’s also a training room for providers and people from the community to learn effective measures to bring back to their own programs.
The staff of about 80, all specifically trained for the purpose, even includes a facility dog named Manny. The chocolate Labrador retriever was spotted on a recent visit meandering from room to room.
The center’s staff already has ties to existing groups in the community, such as the forensic programs for assault victims at hospitals around the state, the Safe Streets violence intervention programs in Baltimore City and domestic violence safe houses. It will take victims sent from hospitals in the LifeBridge network — including Sinai, Northwest Hospital in Randallstown and Grace Medical Center in Baltimore — as well as from other places where victims are first treated.
The staff aims to bring in as many people as they can accommodate for immediate and ongoing wraparound services.
Kyla Liggett-Creel, a clinical associate professor in the University of Maryland, Baltimore, School of Social Work, has worked in trauma services for 25 years. She’s not involved with the center, but says there is need for such a place. She said survivors need the “comprehensive, consistent and continuous care.”
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That poses a challenge when survivors are shuffled from one place to another. Sometimes, a specific need such as housing doesn’t get relayed properly. Other times, services run out or relatives of someone in need aren’t ever considered for services themselves.
“Imagine the worst thing in your life happening and you’re focused on waking up and breathing every day and having to go to seven different places to get care from seven strangers,” Liggett-Creel said.
Sometimes, providers aren’t trained to provide proper care to victims. “With trauma, there is a lot of shame. You don’t want to talk to seven, eight, 10 people and say, ‘I was raped,’ or ‘I was shot,’” she said.
In addition to immediate care, consistent care could keep victims out of harm’s way in the future, ultimately helping to stem violence in the community. She said a team also could work on related issues of joblessness or evictions or food insecurity, which often stem from the event or from unstable or dangerous conditions that contributed to the trauma in the first place.
“No one would have to say they were referring you. They could say, ‘I’m taking you down the hall and let’s walk there together,’” Liggett-Creel said.
As Rosenberg shows off the center’s new medical exam rooms, art therapy supplies and comfortable seating, he said he couldn’t imagine such a place decades ago.
“We’re not in a hospital or a police station,” he said from the property, which is near a sometimes hardscrabble neighborhood. “We’re hoping to do this better ... no matter if the people were victims of child abuse, domestic abuse or gun violence.”