White Coat, Black Art

When Heather Met Ricky

A groundbreaking program at a Winnipeg ER helps youth escape the cycle of violence on that city’s streets.
A groundbreaking program at Winnipeg's Health Sciences Centre helps youth escape the cycle of violence on that city’s streets. 1:22

"I sometimes wouldn't even want to go to the hospital just because of the fact that police, and people would ask all these questions. As opposed to asking how you actually felt," says Ricky, a 22-year-old woman from Winnipeg who used to be a frequent visitor to the ER, often with injuries from violence.

On one of those visits to the Winnipeg Health Sciences Centre (HSC), she became one of the first clients of the Emergency Department Violence Intervention Program (EDVIP).

The key to this program, where others have failed, is the emphasis on immediate intervention.  When a young person with a violent injury is admitted to the ER, a text is sent out to social workers who are on call 24-7.

We greet them right there with their chest tubes in, their oxygen in, and we're part of their medical care team.- Heather Wooodward , EDVIP social worker
Heather Woodward has worked with high-risk youth for over 16 years. (WHS)

"One of the first things I ask them is how they're doing." says Heather Woodward, a social worker and EDVIP support worker. "They always say 'I'm good or I'm fine. And I'll say 'Are you sure? 'Cause you look like you might not be fine right now.' And it usually breaks the ice."

Woodward tries to be a friendly ally in the often intimidating hospital environment. She'll listen to their stories and try to make a connection.

Ricky remembers being caught off guard when she met Heather.  "It was kind of scary. Whoa, this girl's so nice. There's something wrong here."

She was initially reluctant, sometimes ignoring Heather's texts or failing to show up for planned meet-ups. 

But Heather's consistent refusal to give up eventually won her over.

"She told me she's not going anywhere and she never did," says Ricky, adding that Heather made a point of connecting her to (indigenous) culture and that "made me change my mind." 

At one point when Ricky was in distress, Heather and another worker came to her apartment, and sat with her on her bed until she recovered. 

"That's not something a typical program would do...They'd say meet me here, or come see me next week at 2 pm," Heather explains.

EDVIP was created by Dr Carolyn Snider, an ER physician who was concerned that the same young people with violent injuries were returning again and again to the ERs where she worked.

It was incredibly frustrating and I know our system failed them. - Dr. Carolyn Snider, ER physician and creator of EDVIP, on seeing the same young people return to the ER with violent injuries
After EDVIP was tested as a pilot program in the Winnipeg HSC ER, the number of youth who returned to the ER with more violent injuries dropped by 10 percent. Not earth-shattering, but Snider stresses that many young people who they managed to connect with with have turned their lives around in dramatic ways.
Dr Carolyn Snider created the EDVIP program.

Since her ER department visit three years ago, Ricky has gone back to school, and is now in the University of Winnipeg Urban and Inner-City Studies program. She hopes to work with a non-profit serving the needs of the city's downtown.

While Heather gives Ricky much of the credit for her hard work, Ricky says the day she met Heather was a turning point.

"Without (Heather) there cheering me on in my corner I would probabaly still be making those decisions that ended me up in the hospital." 

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