A community social worker balancing gun violence prevention and trauma recovery

Denise Johnson has two roles in Penn’s gun violence prevention efforts as program manager for the Penn Presbyterian Medical Center-based Penn Trauma Violence Recovery Program and the Penn Community Violence Prevention team.

Social worker Denise Johnson splits her time between two roles supporting Penn’s gun violence prevention efforts as program manager for both the Penn Presbyterian Medical Center-based Penn Trauma Violence Recovery Program (PTVRP)—which supports survivors of violent crime beginning while they’re still in the hospital—and the new Penn Community Violence Prevention (PCVP) team, which does street-based outreach. The two programs are part of Penn’s Community Violence Intervention Hub, a team of clinicians, administrators, researchers, practitioners, and activists working together to address the city’s gun violence epidemic, under the umbrella of the Penn Injury Science Center.

Denise Johnson.
Penn Presbyterian Medical Center’s Denise Johnson. (Image: Courtesy of Penn Medicine News)

At PPMC, Johnson supervises the hospital-based violence intervention specialist team (currently a team of one but soon to expand to four, thanks to a recent state grant) to support patients with violent injuries, both at the bedside and after discharge. Outside the hospital, Johnson manages a team of street outreach workers in West and Southwest Philadelphia working to prevent youth and young adult violence from happening in the first place.

The teams she leads each have various efforts and resources for addressing gun violence.Our hospital-based violence recovery specialist, Rodney Babb, meets with survivors of gun violence when they’re at PPMC and stays connected with them after discharge, providing both emotional support and connections to various resources,” Johnson says. “Our street team does similar work, but they’re based in the 19143 zip code, canvasing neighborhoods Monday through Friday–especially in areas where there have been recent shootings–to let community members know about our program.

“The street team also does what we call “violence interruption,” providing conflict mediation to prevent disagreements from escalating. It could be for two individuals who were involved in a verbal disagreement, or it could be community members who have conflicts based off their street behavior.”

Johnson pulls from her personal experience for inspiration in her roles.

“My journey has included some experiences that made me want to always be a good influence on someone in recovery,” she says. “At the risk of sounding corny, part of my lifelong mission is to only take positions that benefit people in need. I have to find purpose in my life, so doing this type of work goes beyond getting a paycheck. I feel that what we do as individuals, directly or indirectly, always affects people. By choosing jobs that impact people in a positive way, it adds personal meaning and fulfillment to my life.”

Read more at Penn Medicine News.