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Violence, Mental Health and Public Health Come Together in Commission Report

A year-and-a-half-old committee formed to find new ways to reduce violence and promote positive mental health and community well being in Allegheny County is just now making its recommendations to County Executive Rich Fitzgerald.

The 24-member Public Health Commission on Preventing Violence and Promoting Community Mental Health is calling for the creation of an ongoing Public Health Collaborative. 

Co-Chair Karen Hacker, the director of the Allegheny County Health Department, said they spent the last 18 months looking at research, surveying programs and studying how exposure to violence affects people.  

“I think that’s really where it came up from – how do you address the impact that violence has had on communities and trauma in particular throughout the lifespan,” said Hacker. 

The group included elected officials, health workers, advocates and law enforcement. Along with the call for the collaborative the group issued a report that includes a long list of recommendations.

"[The ideas] range from implementing evidence based programs that have been shown to actually make a dent," Hacker said. "To training and supporting community leaders, to coordinating and implementing those practices, to looking at police strategies."

Reducing stigma surrounding the act of getting mental health care is also part of the report.

"Both in terms of access to mental health services as well as to having the right kind of mental health services and particularly implementing trauma informed care models in a consistent way across the county," Hacker said.

Making the care affordable is also a thrust of the report.

State Rep. Ed Gainey pushed for the creation of the commission. He said his hope was to find the root of what he calls a real community health problem.

"While none of us believes that this report is a magic wand that will stop the violence in our communities, we do believe that working collaboratively and having resources to support these efforts can go a long way towards making things better," Guiney said.

Hacker notes that often the negative impacts of violence exposure among children will not be seen until they are adults.

“McKeesport is just one community that has been touched by violence,” said the Rev. Earlene Coleman of the Bethlehem Baptist Church in McKeesport and co-chair the commission. “But it is a community that is also ripe for improvements that can be made with the implementation of many of the commission’s recommendations.”