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Jersey Shore University Medical Center's 'Project Heal' Making Serious Inroads In Violence Intervention

NEPTUNE CITY, N.J. (CBSNewYork) -- Homicide rates spiked in big cities across the country during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic. One hospital in New Jersey put a program in place to help reduce the number of victims in its community.

Community violence. Gang violence. Domestic violence. Dr. Aakash Shah says during the pandemic, he saw the highest number of victims in his 10-year career of training and practice.

"We find that up to 40% of those who come into the emergency room with a violent injury are back with another violent injury within five years. Up to 20% are dead of another violent injury within five years," Shah told CBS2's Leah Mishkin on Tuesday.

Shah is looking to break that cycle with Project Heal.

"Project Heal is predicated on a really simple insight, and that insight is that hurt people hurt people," Shah said.

In March of 2021, he started a violence intervention program at Hackensack Meridian's Jersey Shore University Medical Center in Neptune City. It's modeled off similar programs across the country.

"It can be incredibly frustrating to stitch up an injury, only to then send an individual back out to the circumstances that cut them open in the first place," Shah said.

The team at Project Heal sends a counselor to a victim's hospital bed to help with relocation, funding for school, resources to find a job, and medical care coordination. They provide therapy and intensive case management.

"They really got a lot out of me that I held in for so long, that I kept repeating the same things over and over and over again," client Kimberly Bryant said.

Bryant was molested by a family friend when she was 6 years old. In high school, she started taking drugs and drinking. It progressed. She got into abusive relationships. She said she got into fights and ended up in and out of prison.

"I never really dealt with those issues until I got to Project Heal, where I was able to talk about everything from a child," Bryant said.

The mother of seven is now back in school to get her commercial driver's license. Project Heal is paying for the class so she can become a truck driver. That's something she has always wanted to do.

"I thought I could fill my void with drugs and alcohol, but there's nothing like the feeling that my children give me when they tell me they're proud of me," Bryant said. "It took a long time for that to happen, but it has happened. I never thought it would."

Bryant has been sober for nine months. Her relationship with her children is improving day by day, and she says the program gave her a new chance in life.

Project Heal has helped 138 clients since starting in March of 2021.

CBS2's Leah Mishkin contributed to this report.

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