Specialized nurses, nonprofits in Routt County provide vital support after trauma
When people are going through one of the toughest days of their lives after another human has assaulted or abused them, it is comforting to know that specially trained nurses and staff are available in the Yampa Valley to provide help and support.
UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center now has three certified forensic nurse examiners, with a current opening for a fourth examiner, to provide care through the emergency department. The program was re-established in June 2021 with support from UCHealth. The nurses are available to care for and examine – with patients’ step-by-step permission – the victims of violence, abuse or intentional injury such as sexual assault, intimate partner violence, child abuse or even injuries from a bar fight.
Kathy LeBlanc, a forensic nurse examiner at YVMC, came out of retirement to help in the important role.
“I get to take my 40 years of nursing experience, both the technical and the psychosocial, wrap them together, and take someone who’s had the worst day of their life and help them get on the positive path to recovery,” LeBlanc said.
Throughout 2022, 29 forensic exams were completed at YVMC for 20 females and nine males, including five individuals age 17 or younger. The services included 19 forensic exams due to some form of assault and 10 exams due to sexual assault, often including the collection of DNA evidence, according to Maureen Connolly, YVMC emergency department nurse manager.
So far in 2023, six forensic exams have taken place at YVMC, including two assaults that happened on New Year’s Eve, said Rachael Rangel, a registered nurse of 10 years and YVMC’s lead forensic nurse examiner. Rangel said many of the assault cases are associated with alcohol or substance use.
If a victim is 17 or younger, the nurses can see children who do not have acute medical needs for free at the child-focused facilities at the Brighter World Child Advocacy Center in Steamboat Springs. Although the center opened in August 2021 and has two certified forensic interviewers on staff, the center completed its forensic medical exam space in January.
In the past, patients traveled to Summit County, Glenwood Springs, Grand Junction or Denver for equivalent services.
According to the International Association of Forensic Nurses, “Victims of violence and abuse require care from a health professional who is trained to treat the trauma associated with the wrong that has been done to them, be it sexual assault, intimate partner violence, neglect or other forms of intentional injury. Forensic nurses are also a critical resource for anti-violence efforts. They collect evidence and give testimony that can be used in a court of law to apprehend or prosecute perpetrators who commit violent and abusive acts.”
The National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey from 2015 showed that one in five women experienced completed or attempted rape during her lifetime. In the U.S., 43.6% of women, or nearly 52.2 million, experienced some form of sexual violence in their lifetime.
The service at YVMC is available to anyone in need. Of the 29 cases at YVMC last year, 20 patients resided in Routt County, one in Moffat, four from other Colorado counties and four from outside Colorado.
A 20- to 30-minute educational presentation on the forensic nurse examiner service is available for free for any area groups or schools. Contact Rachael Rangel, lead forensic nurse examiner at UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center, at 970-870-1040.
Forensic nurse examiner services also are available at Memorial Regional Health in Craig.
During a full medical exam for sexual assault, DNA evidence can be collected up to 120 hours after the assault, and evidence of abrasions or bruises are best documented during the first seven days, Rangel said.
Providers hope to see the numbers increase for patients who utilize the forensic nurse examiner service in the private, enclosed rooms in the emergency department so that everyone receives the care and referrals to follow-up services they may need as well as documentation if desired for possible future legal actions. Patients age 18 to 68 have the option to report their case to law enforcement for up to two years or remain anonymous, unless there is serious bodily injury. Cases may result in mandatory reporting to law enforcement if the person is 17 or younger, 69 or older or is mentally or developmentally challenged, Rangel explained.
The forensic nurse examiners at YVMC emergency department are happy to speak with victims over the phone (call 970-870-1040) if people have questions before possibly coming to the hospital. Rangel said common questions include if the situation will be reported to law enforcement, concerns about staying safe from an abuser or the financial costs. She emphasized that funding support options are available to victims.
“We hope that a patient doesn’t wait to receive care or not seek it entirely out of worry about costs,” said Lindsey Reznicek, YVMC communications strategist, highlighting funding options such as the state’s Crime Victim Compensation fund, Sexual Assault Victim Emergency Payment Program and UCHealth financial assistance programs.
To reach Suzie Romig, call 970-871-4205 or email sromig@SteamboatPilot.com.
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