Hundreds of caregivers and administrators from across the Partners HealthCare System joined together last week at Partners' first ever Trauma-Informed Care Conference, one which organizers and attendees hope will become an annual event. The event, hosted by Brigham and Women’s Hospital, featured noted speakers in the field, including Boston City Councilor Ayanna Pressley and Keynote Speaker Carole Warshaw, MD Director of the National Center on Domestic Violence.

Trauma is pervasive—an ongoing study has found that 63% of people have had at least one traumatic childhood experience. This conference offered attendees to learn about the latest research on trauma, why delivering trauma-informed care is important, and it also provided attendees who are working in domestic violence prevention and treatment roles at Partners hospitals a chance to network and connect.

“Today is about recognizing your enormously powerful work, coming together as a group across the Partners system, and taking it to the next level,” said Matt Fishman, Vice President for Community Health at Partners. “Years ago, when I was beginning my work, I was challenged to find people doing this work. It was lonely work at that time. To see you all today, a room full of people who know how vital this care is, it is a dream come true.”

Dr. Carole WarshawKeynote Speaker Carole Warshaw, MD gave an informative presentation about how to define trauma, recent research around trauma, and how important it is for attendees to support each other, and create mechanisms for helping others work through trauma, but not let that become their own lives.

“In dealing with trauma, you need to feel like there’s something you can do to change it, and when you’re connected to people who are [also dealing with trauma], it keeps us going,” said Warshaw. “The clinician, however, is also affected by these things. If we have to sit with the fear and uncertainty of someone going back to a dangerous situation, it’s hard to prevent burnout.”

She shared with those in the room methods for reaching patients, and treating them in ways that take into account the effect trauma can have on one’s health. Trauma theory normalizes human response to trauma. It shifts our conceptualization of symptoms from “What’s wrong with you”? to “What happened to you?” she said.

Trauma-informed organizations recognize the pervasiveness of trauma on survivors, staff, and organizations themselves, she said.

City Councilor Ayanna Pressley, an outspoken advocate for women’s issues and trauma prevention, kicked off the day by welcoming the audience and explaining why these issues were so important to her, because of her own personal experiences with sexual abuse.

“This is not abstract rhetoric, it’s rooted in painful personal experiences,” said Pressley. “Family stabilization equals healthy communities. This is a position I champion out of moral imperative.”

Pressley outlined what she considers key methods for combating trauma in the community:

  • Ayanna PressleyFighting for investment in social-emotional learning in education. “If kids are not ready to learn, it’s in vain. We need wrap-around support at school to help children become ready.”
  • Empowerment for girls and women, especially survivors of sexual assault and/or violence. 
  • Helping community members to understand that domestic and sexual violence and the health of our community is inextricably linked.

The conference also featured a panel discussion during which three clinical leaders from different Partners hospitals discussed how they have used trauma-informed care in practice. The panelists who spoke were Robin Cunningham, RN, MSN, DNP from Newton-Wellesley Hospital, Wendy Macias Konstantopoulos, MD, MPH from Massachusetts General Hospital, and Erica Veguilla from Brigham and Women’s Faulkner Hospital. In addition, attendees were invited to a poster session where group from around the system presented the findings of domestic violence research studies and activities.
poster presentationAttendees and speakers represented hospitals and members from across the Partners system, including Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Massachusetts General Hospital, Brigham and Women’s Faulkner Hospital, Newton-Wellesley Hospital, Neighborhood Health Plan, North Shore Medical Center, and Partners Community Health and Partners Employee Assistance Program. Attendees were thankful that the conference provided them the opportunity to learn more about how they can better deliver care each day to their patients undergoing trauma.

View more photos from the event.