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Margaret W. Wong at MetroHealth Program: "Building Families & Creating Strong Communities"

On Saturday, April 18th, Ms. Margaret W. Wong spoke and we tabled at a conference on domestic violence and mental health titled "Building Healthy Families and Creating Strong Communities" put on by MetroHealth Hospital at their Main Campus in the Rammelkamp Atrium. Our friends from MetroHealth, Ms. Mari Galindo-DaSilva and Dr. Maria Pujana were among the people who worked very hard to put on this event which dealt with a very important subject. Tabling there also were such community groups as Catholic Charities Diocese of Cleveland; Hispanic UMADAOP, Inc.; Red Flags National (a school based mental health organization); Domestic Violence and Child Advocacy Center; Asian Services in Action; and the Spanish American Committee.

While we were tabling, we spoke to a very kind person named Brittany who admired Ms. Wong for the work that she does because her husband immigrated to the United States from Mexico, so Brittany was aware of the problems faced by immigrants. Another person that we talked to has friends who are immigrating here from Colombia and might need help obtaining work visas. Another man told us that he had been facebook friends with Ms. Wong for a long time and looked forward to meeting her.

The program opened with Mr. Anthony Harris, a young man who had recently received an award from the Cleveland Rotary Club for his public speaking, giving some impassioned remarks on how Ms. Maya Angelou's  "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings" opened his eyes to the "cruel and crippling epidemic" of domestic violence.

One order of business was a panel discussion presided over by Mr. David Delgado, the emcee for the day, which featured Ms. Linda Johanek, CEO of the Domestic Violence and Child Advocacy Center; Mr. Bill Denihan, CEO of the ADAMHS Board; Dr. Ewald Horwath, Chair of the Dept. of Psychiatry, CWRU at the MetroHealth System; and Mr. Andres Gonzalez, Chief of Police for the Cleveland Metropolitan Housing Authority.

Ms. Johanek said that there were three messages that were to be imparted to the victims of domestic violence: it is not your fault, you are not alone, and there is help available. She said that it was realized that there might be barriers in the Hispanic community against asking for help so she was very proud of the Latino Project that was initiated in 2004 and now employs three people who do translation and advocacy.

Mr. Denihan talked about the mental health stigma that accompanies victimhood and said, "let's get rid of it!" Treatment works and people recover. It is important that people receive the care that they need because living with a mental health affliction increases the victim's chances of becoming involved in an abusive relationship.

Dr. Horwath said that domestic violence is an "enormous public health epidemic." In 2012 in Ohio there were 56,000 reported instances of domestic violence but these were just the tip of the iceberg because so much goes unreported. He called upon health care providers to train themselves for an appropriate response and for the creation of a system that responds to the problem.

Chief Gonzalez grimly stated that the police "are never invited to the wedding but always invited to the divorce." Eight out of ten times a police officer arrives on the scene of a domestic dispute there are children present so he must decide the right thing to do for the benefit of the family as a whole. Chief Gonzalez said that the police do not want to contribute to the destruction of the family and the best way to address this problem is a "partnership between the community and the police." Thus, if we know of someone who might be experiencing a problem with domestic violence they should let law enforcement know about it. He then called upon the men at the conference to set the example and not allow the cycle of violence to continue. He concluded by saying that we need to teach children that the rough stuff that they see on television, movies, and video games is not real and that violence is no solution and that there are alternatives.

It was indeed fortunate that so many people attended this important gathering but this meant that we had to keep an eye on our table so we missed a lot of the program including the breakout sessions which dealt with such things as the purpose and the procedure of the Family Justice Center Witness Victims Unit and how to survive the death of a loved one caused by domestic violence. There was also a very promising one about immigration law that hopefully addressed such matters as the "battered spouse waiver" of the Immigration Reform Act of 1990; the "U" visa which is set aside for victims of certain crimes who have suffered physical and mental abuse who are helpful to law enforcement in the investigation and the prosecution of criminal activity; and the "T" visa which was created to provide immigration relief to victims of severe forms of human trafficking.

The rest of the program contained very eloquent testimonies from a former batterer who now wanted to give back to the community and several victims of domestic violence including Ms. Kathie Dolgin, a reknowned Health and Wellness advocate who created successful programs in New York which she would like to re-create in Cleveland; and Ms. Yvonne Pointer who is an author, activist, and philantropist whose own daughter was a murder victim.

Just after lunch such dignitaries as Ms. Lucy Torres, Hispanic Liaison to the City of Cleveland; Dr. Akram Boutros, President and CEO of the MetroHealth system; Mr. Blaine Griffin, Executive Director of the Community Relations Board; Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson; Cleveland City Councilman Brian Cummins; and Ms. Toinette Parrilla, Director of Public Health all got up and said a few words.

Our Ms. Margaret W. Wong was the Keynote Speaker and she talked about how important MetroHealth had been to her personally and how important it was to the community particularly in its service to immigrants. "We all come from different walks of life," said Ms. Wong, "and immigrants want the things that everyone else wants like good medical care" and that MetroHealth is an outstanding place to come for it. Ms. Wong was especially proud of her association with Dr. Boutros who immigrated to the United States from Egypt  and is the only immigrant to head a health care organization of this size in Ohio.

One important thing that everyone agreed on was the importance of addressing this issue in a way that can address the needs of children in dysfunctional families so that they do not grow up to become perpetrators. Mr. Ed Munoz, Manager of MetroHealth's Community Health Advocacy Project, said that it was "upstreaming"-by doing what we do now we affect our health in the future. Thus, by dealing with the traumatic effects of domestic violence on children now, we will not have to deal with them when the children grow older.

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