Persevering in a Pandemic
As we continue sheltering at home and missing GAGV monthly meetings, we’re eager to use this newsletter to stay connected with you, our important supporters.
Clearly, we’ve all been affected by the pandemic and its interruption of daily life. Hopefully, none of us has suffered the loss of a loved one, neighbor or friend. If you have, we offer our condolences. While the shelter in place orders have primarily been an inconvenience for most of us, we know many others are suffering major life events including loss of employment, hunger and extreme stress about what the future holds. Our hearts go out to them. Despite the uncertainty we all feel, we’ve also been buoyed by inspiring acts of courage, kindness and generosity.
Life and work continue. That’s why this month we’re focusing on how the pandemic has affected the work of some of GAGV’s best partners. They too have been forced to make adjustments in their professional lives because of restrictions imposed by the pandemic.
GAGV Partners Working in the Pandemic
Police delivering boxes of food to homes in neighborhoods they patrol. Mental health professionals “seeing” patients in their own environments for the first time. Domestic violence advocates using time away from court to delve more deeply into individual cases.
These are among the changes and unexpected benefits three of GAGV’s partners in curbing gun violence have seen the past several weeks as they’ve continued working during the pandemic. Every day these professionals in law enforcement, mental health and the judicial system are managing to meet the needs of those relying on them for help.
Unlike many professionals who can work remotely from home, “we are still out there answering the call. It’s what we signed up for,” said KCPD Officer Jason Cooley, Community Initiative Officer for the Chief of Police. Officer Cooley coordinates KCPD’s Community Interaction Officers (CIOs) who often help GAGV staff Lock It For Love events and who were recognized in 2018 as GAGV’s Organization Advocate of the Year.
So far in KCMO, the rate of crimes directly related to gun violence, such as homicides and armed robberies, remains about the same during the stay-at-home period as it was last year although available statistics covered only three weeks, according to Cooley.
Administratively, CIOs are doing more multitasking, such as helping answer 911 and 311 (non-emergency) calls. In the community, they’re collaborating with Harvesters, officers from the Police Athletic League and KCPD social workers to identify struggling families in the neighborhoods they serve. “To date, we’ve delivered roughly 1,100 boxes of food to the front porches of those in need,” Cooley said, with more of the 16-pound food boxes on their way. “TEAM KCPD is stepping up as a whole and everyone is taking on new and different roles to accomplish (our) mission.”
The role of psychiatrist in treating patients while social distancing has presented different challenges for Dr. Shayla Sullivant, an adolescent psychiatrist at Children’s Mercy Hospital (CMH) and GAGV’s 2018 Individual Advocate of the Year. She’s now “offering phone/video visits whenever possible (because) we know mental health concerns do not evaporate in a pandemic and some worsen, so we want to do what we can to reach people.”
Dr. Sullivant said CMH has seen a drop in the number of adolescents presenting to the Emergency Department with thoughts of suicide; suicide accounts for the largest percentage of gun deaths in the U.S. “It’s not clear to us if the drop is because of an actual decrease or families avoiding the health care environment” because of the pandemic.
Some of Dr. Sullivant’s patients with social anxiety have reported lower stress levels since staying at home while others faced with using technology to stay engaged “have expressed some discomfort using more technology, either feeling uncomfortable seeing themselves on screen or just not wanting to use it in general.”
Her own increased use of technology to “see” her patients has been an added bonus for Dr. Sullivant. “We’re seeing folks at home which has been nice,” she said. “I’ve been able to meet family members and often folks feel more relaxed” in their own environments.
For victims of domestic violence, their home environments, especially during stay-at-home restrictions, can prove to be even more dangerous. Higher rates of domestic violence calls have been reported nationwide and in KCMO. In Johnson County “it seems to vary by location,” according to Assistant Johnson County District Attorney Megan Ahsens, who specializes in prosecuting domestic violence cases. She was GAGV’s program speaker in September 2019. She said clear understanding of domestic violence statistics in Kansas is difficult because the state’s definition includes all kinds of relationships, even those not between intimate partners.
She shares a concern with law enforcement that abusers are “using the pandemic as another tool of power and control over their victims (such as) an abuser telling a victim that if she calls the police, they will just bring the virus to the house and she would be endangering their children,” Ahsens said.
A large part of her normal workday is spent in court appearances and trials. With the courthouse largely closed, that’s no longer possible. “That has had an unexpected benefit,” Ahsens said, freeing up her time to dig deeper into some cases. “For example, I can pull and listen to jail phone calls now on many more of my cases and I can have our investigators do the same,” she said. “Having a bit of extra time has meant I can do more in the way of adding charges if (accused abusers) call their victims…or try to prevent their victims from cooperating with us or the police.”
This past January, GAGV named 2020 the Year of Collaboration. We’re grateful to these three partners for sharing their pandemic experiences with us and look forward to the time we can collaborate with them again in person, whatever the prescribed social distance might be.