In the alphabet soup of acronyms that sometimes define to the public any organization with lots of moving parts, the Medical Education and Research Institute – or MERI – may be just another set of letters to some.
But MERI is considerably more than that.
The collaborative nonprofit institute is, among other things, the proof that violence and its impact are so much more than a law enforcement issue.
Violence is a public health concern, whether the focus is dealing with the root causes of violence or the iTClamp, the new trauma medical device that has undergone regulatory testing at MERI and is now standard equipment on Memphis Fire Department trucks.
The more borders we can better understand between elements like violence and who deals with what part of the problem, the more our understanding as a community of such problems can deepen.
Memphis is already a medical center – actually several medical centers and clusters in addition to the traditional and historic medical center between Downtown and Midtown that is currently remaking itself.
All employ thousands of Memphians, in addition to physicians, who are part of a mosaic that is more than medical in the strictest sense of the word.
In the Memphis economy, it is hard to find a sector that doesn’t have some kind of connection to the medical industry.
Even if it is the logistics of moving medical goods and devices, there is an acknowledgement that there are specific conditions involved because of how they are used.
In those conditions and others used by those outside the strict confines of medical practices is the essence of how we begin to approach violence as a health issue in the broadest sense possible.
No problem is more embedded in Memphis culture and history. No issue intersects with so many of our other challenges from poverty to education to quality of life. And no issue compels us to take such a long look in the mirror at our actions or lack of action on matters such as 12,000 untested rape kits and the gap between reported domestic and family violence and the true level of that violence.
These are legitimate public health issues that we ignore at our own peril.
The closer our response moves to a reaction to early indicators of violence, the closer we get to defining violence as something apart from our culture and heritage.
That kind of response may seem outside the boundaries of MERI. And it is a daunting challenge, to be sure, that should be met on a broader front.
But there are lessons to be learned from what is taught at MERI that show a broader response and involvement, even to a specific incident, can yield new ideas that prove useful.
The more we can involve ourselves in meeting the issue of violence instead of our natural tendency to look away, the more we will learn.