Walsh vows to tackle crime

Mayor Martin J. Walsh toured Boston Medical Center Wednesday, meeting with the hospital’s chief executive, Kate Walsh, and Dr. Jonathan Olshaker in the emergency room.
Wendy Maeda/Globe Staff
Mayor Martin J. Walsh toured Boston Medical Center Wednesday, meeting with the hospital’s chief executive, Kate Walsh, and Dr. Jonathan Olshaker in the emergency room.

After being whisked around Boston Medical Center on Wednesday, Mayor Martin J. Walsh sat with a team of people who are novel in medical settings. They are violence intervention advocates.

Their job, they told the new mayor, includes going immediately to the rooms of victims of urban violence, usually young people who have been shot or stabbed, and working with them to try to stop the endless cycle of attacks and revenge that plagues the streets.

They stick with their clients in the hospital and long after the patients leave, they said.


Scanning the conference room where the team had gathered, Walsh asked for more detail.

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“Give me one story,’’ he said.

A 25-year-old goateed Roxbury man recounted his journey back from the brink of crime. He told of how he had been shot twice in one year, how he recovered, and how he finally got a job in Dudley Square.

“I’m actually where I want to be in my life,’’ said the man, who asked not to be identified. “I’m a victim of crime.”

Walsh listened intently, hands on chin, quietly absorbing every word. Afterward, he said that he intends to focus on the city’s victims and their traumatized communities.


“We can’t be satisfied when half of the high school students or [their] family members know someone who was killed,’’ Walsh told reporters during a Wednesday morning press conference in a lobby at the hospital on Albany Street. “That’s a problem.”

Walsh announced he will name Acting Police Commissioner William Evans as the permanent leader of the Boston Police Department this week and convened ministers and other antiviolence champions to hash out strategies aimed at curbing crime.

“Our entire city has to rally around this issue,’’ Walsh said.

Walsh’s message resonated with Roy Martin, director of a program run by the Boston Public Health Commission called PACT, which works with 400 so-called impact players identified by police.

“We live here,’’ said Martin. “It does say something that early in his administration the mayor has put this on his radar.”


Walsh’s visit included a chance to speak with the doctors who head the emergency room department and internal medicine at Boston Medical Center, a private, nonprofit facility with nearly 500 beds.

Walsh also stopped at the substance abuse office, sampled pasta in a demonstration kitchen, and heard of the gains the hospital is making in ensuring that low-income residents get specialized cancer treatment.

“We are really distinct in serving low-income patients and people of color,’’ said Kate Walsh, the hospital’s chief executive, who guided the mayor on the hospital tour. “This gives us a chance to attack the disparities that plague’’ those communities.

Dr. Thea James, an emergency room physician who heads the hospital’s Violence Intervention Advocacy Program, told the mayor that the program gets to the root causes of violence not only for the victims, but also for their families.

“We have a unique opportunity to intervene on a kid’s life when they come here, because we receive the most shootings and stab wounds,’’ James said. “We try to break cycles because if we don’t, people just come back.”

The program, which began in 2006, works with the Public Health Commission and the hospital’s Community Violence Response Team, run out of the trauma services unit. Advocates work together to flood victims with help, such as mental health counseling and basic life skills including getting a driver’s license, eating healthy food, or attaining a high school diploma.

Of the victims of violence who come to the hospital and enter the program, just 7 percent have returned with new injuries from violence, the program’s leaders said.

“That’s huge,’’ said James.

At the meeting with the mayor, Elizabeth Dugan, a manager for the intervention program, voiced her concern about the patchwork of funding it receives from the health commission, the federal government, and the hospital.

“The fear of letting our clients down and not being able to say we will be here next year . . . is really a challenge,’’ Dugan said.

The mayor promised to work on the issue, adding that the program was just the sort of thing he had been advocating for during the campaign. He said he wants to convene a team soon to come up with ideas on how to improve on what is already in place to tackle violence.

The Roxbury man, who had asked not to be identified, sat next to his hospital advocate, Kendall Bruce, who has been helping him get straight and back on his feet.

“She’s been in my life for the last five years, always on me about getting a job,’’ he said. “I definitely thank Miss Bruce.”

Bruce, long a champion of the underserved, has counseled people with HIV, people on the edge. The Roxbury man was one of her first clients.

“I’ll be there when he falls,’’ Bruce said. Then quietly, she added: “I’ll be with him.”

Walsh asked the young man if he was taking advantage of mental health counseling and used his past with alcohol addiction to give him assurance.

“It’s important,’’ the mayor said, recounting how counseling helped him when he was in detox. “Don’t think it’s a guy thing. It’s OK to talk about your feelings.”

Meghan E. Irons can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @meghanirons.