Diverse backgrounds make team effective, members say


The diverse backgrounds of those serving on the York County Domestic Violence Fatality Review Team are part of what has helped the group come up with innovative ideas to help thwart future domestic murders, several of its members said.

"It's a great group (with) a wide array of disciplines. Very valuable," said state Rep. Keith Gillespie, R-Hellam Township, who has been a team member since 2001 or 2002. "You've got a lot of expertise in specialized areas."

"People around the table see things differently," said team member Heather Keller, legal advocacy director for Access-York and the Victim Assistance Center. Both programs are part of the YWCA of York.

"It's a combined think tank," said Anne Acker, a team member and director of Safe Home, a domestic-violence program through the YWCA of Hanover. "When you have all these minds from different systems coming together, this is what you get."

Second in state: The team was created in 1998, making York County the second county in the state to start a domestic violence fatality review team, according to Acker. The team was launched after she and others observed a meeting of Philadelphia's women's death review team, she said.

York County's team members include a county judge and representatives from the district attorney's office, sheriff's office and probation office, as well as private physicians, a member of York Hospital's emergency department, a state representative, the county coroner and members of the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence, SpiriTrust Lutheran Domestic Abuse Solutions and a program designed to help domestic abusers get help.

"It's a really active meeting, really interactive," said Keller, who called the brainstorming sessions invaluable. "Everybody's jumping in and contributing."

"We've got a really great team," Acker said. "Someone can think outside the box and not be ridiculed."

'Significant' problem: The team, which is affiliated with the York County Task Force on Domestic Violence, is important because York County has a significant problem with domestic-violence homicides and regularly ranks third in the state for numbers of annual domestic murders, according to Keller.

"We have to figure out these answers," she said.

"As a paramedic and a first responder, I saw way too many of them," said Gillespie, who spent 30 years as a paramedic and directed four different departments at Memorial Hospital. He also spent a few years as a York County deputy coroner.

"What we're looking for, ultimately, is the common denominator — the common thread," he said, because identifying common themes can help effect change. "It's sort of like putting together a puzzle."

Helping families: York County Coroner Pam Gay also credits the team members' varied experience and background with helping the team brainstorm ideas.

"It helps us to see what we could do differently in the community and helps us figure out how we can reach out to the families that are suffering," Gay said, adding she learns new things from other team members, such as services available to families. "To me, the meetings are very worthwhile."

"If there's a way we can prevent even one (domestic homicide) from happening, then we've been somewhat successful," Gillespie said.

— Reach Liz Evans Scolforo at levans@yorkdispatch.com.