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BMC designates ER grieving area

BMC designates ER grieving area

Part of effort to aid families of victims

By Andrew Ryan

Globe Staff / November 16, 2010

Boston Medical Center recently designated private space in its emergency room where the bereaved families of homicide victims can grieve with the bodies of their loved ones away from the chaos of a trauma center.

The recent move is one of several concrete steps the hospital has taken in the past few months to provide better support for families in the overwhelming instant they learn that a loved one has been slain. The changes at BMC, which sees about half of Boston’s homicides each year, will be described in detail today at a Boston City Council hearing examining the social services available for victims of violence.

“At a hospital, we see lots of people who die, unfortunately,’’ said Lisa Allee, a clinical social worker at BMC who is scheduled to testify today before the council. “But a family who has lost someone to homicide has different needs than someone who died in a car accident.’’

The emergency room at Boston Medical Center stocks brochures and phone numbers for families looking for counseling, help with burial services, or a victim advocate, Allee said. Training is available for doctors, nurses, and social workers who give death notifications in violent crimes. Hospital staff is coordinating with outside support groups to follow up with families the next day and beyond. The changes were prompted in part by a City Council hearing in August when relatives of homicide victims testified for more than four hours, giving an unflinching look at life for families torn about by urban violence.

The testimony, dominated by mothers who lost sons, included concrete recommendations for how government, law enforcement, and other organizations can ease the pain.

“There are specific things families need when they are told their loved one is murdered," said Clementina M. Chery, who founded the Louis D. Brown Peace Institute in her son’s name after he was killed. “There’s police. The hospital. Then you have to go to the morgue. From the morgue, you deal with the funeral home. And if you have a church, then you are dealing with the church."

The peace institute is working to create a standard protocol for outreach from an array of institutions for every homicide, so agencies work together to help relatives navigate the system.

The forum today, which begins at 11 a.m. on the fifth floor of Boston City Hall, is sponsored by Councilors Charles C. Yancey and Ayanna Pressley. Testimony is expected from individuals and organizations, including police, prosecutors, victim advocates, clergy, community health centers, and foundations. It will be a test of what dozens of officials and institutions took away from the harrowing stories recounted in August.

“They were very attentive; they took copious notes," Pressley said yesterday. “It was my understanding that many people went back to their respective organizations, agencies, and shops and just really began to deconstruct. What did they hear. What did they learn. There were many takeaways. So now [today], we will listen to them.’’

Andrew Ryan can be reached at