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THE PROBLEM: Last month, Louis Jargow was stabbed as he was walking home from work.
He doesn't completely remember what happened, but he thinks someone came up from behind, stabbed him in the side and took the iPhone he was carrying - leaving him bleeding face-down on the ground somewhere near his West Philly apartment.
He managed to stumble to his girlfriend's place. She called the police.
Thankfully, Jargow turned out to be OK. He was released from the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania a few days later. The knife had missed his internal organs, but the incident left the uninsured recent college grad nervous about the medical bills he could be facing.
THERE IS HELP. Jargow didn't have to be so worried. There are services available to crime victims, and one is help with medical bills. Someone should have told Jargow about them, but we'll get to that in a minute.
Funded by a federal grant, the state's Victims Compensation Assistance Program is designed to serve as an insurer of last resort, paying for medical bills and ambulance fees that aren't covered by a victim's health insurance.
For an uninsured victim like Jargow, it could potentially cover the full cost of his care, paying HUP directly for his hospital stay and follow-up visit and reimbursing the fee he'll have to pay the city for his ambulance trip.
The program also covers lost earnings and, in the case of a murder, burial costs for the victim's family. (The only victims not eligible for assistance are perpetrators of crimes who become victims themselves. A dealer who's shot while selling drugs isn't covered.)
Philadelphians can apply for the program with help from one of several community-based nonprofits that have contracts to provide services to victims of different types of crime, in different parts of the city.
These organizations also provide a wide array of additional services to victims. They accompany them to court hearings and trials, help obtain affidavits for prosecutors and notify the court if victims are being threatened or intimidated by someone.
They also provide counseling, either with in-house staff or through referrals.
Julie Rausch, executive director of the Anti-Violence Partnership, which has the contract to provide services to West and Southwest Philadelphia, as well as to the families of murder victims, said the last service is particularly important to her clients.
This is especially true with the families of murder victims. Murder "really breaks up the family," Rausch said, and can require years of therapy. AVP has therapists on staff and "can see people as often or as long as we want to."
One woman Rausch's organization works with came to them when she was 13 after her cousin killed her brother and shot her in the face. Now she's in her mid-20s and lives in California, but when she comes back to Philly, she still drops by for a counseling session, Rausch said.
The nonprofit serves about 9,000 people a year - some, like this woman, for crimes committed years ago.
As for victims' compensation, more than 2,000 residents citywide submitted requests for the service last fiscal year.
How are victims supposed to know about these services?
Actually, Jargow should have heard from AVP within 72 hours of his stabbing, according to Myra Maxwell, the group's director of victim services.
The organization receives regular lists of crime victims in the police districts it serves that enable it to send letters to victims detailing the services available and their rights under state and federal laws.
Though AVP was aware of Jargow's stabbing, Maxwell said the police never provided the group with an address for him - meaning it couldn't get in touch with him until after we called Rausch to get more information.
Consequently, beyond some vague remarks by hospital workers, Jargow wasn't aware of the victim-compensation program or of the other services available to him.
The police aren't quite sure why this happened. Lt. Raymond Evers, a police spokesman, said Jargow's address is clearly on the police reports about the stabbing. Regardless, now that the bureaucratic mix-up's been resolved, Jargow said AVP has been "really helpful" in getting him set up with the array of services that are out there.
For crime victims who have a similar experience, the state has a website with a list of victim-service organizations by county. Visit pacrimevictims.state.pa.us for more information.
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