Hospital's domestic violence services expand

AAMC 24-hour counseling yields jump in patients

August 26, 2004|By Kayleigh Kulp | Kayleigh Kulp,SUN STAFF

Last year, Anne Arundel Medical Center's domestic violence program helped about 30 patients a month. But when the hospital expanded its program this year to provide around-the-clock service, it saw the number of victims being helped by the unit increase significantly.

Serving 445 people since January, the unit attributes the increase to making domestic violence counseling easily accessible to victims. But program coordinators aren't through.

The hospital recently completed setting up a forensic examination room for sexual assault victims. It plans to start offering services for children and for vulnerable adults other than an abuser's intimate partner. And hospital officials say the program's eight counselors have raised awareness about domestic violence among the hospital's staff.

"The ability to interact with patients is extraordinary because of the setup here," said Pat Saunders, director of nursing in the emergency department. "It's so overwhelming to see that kind of response."

The domestic violence program at AAMC was started in 1996, part of a pilot program that included similar efforts in other parts of the state.

Since then, coordinators of the Arundel program have done extensive training statewide through a partnership with the Maryland Network Against Domestic Violence. They often are speakers in health, nursing and Emergency Medical Technician classes at Anne Arundel Community College on how to screen and identify domestic violence and abuse, and how to assist victims.

In October, officials from the program will share details of their work at the National Health Care Conference in Boston. Coordinators Nicole White and China McHold plan to advocate awareness in the emergency room of domestic violence and abuse and present ideas about treatment and training in the health-care setting.

The emergency department refers 40 percent of the program's patients. Sometimes domestic violence victims check into the emergency department without necessities such as shoes or socks, said Laurel Burnett, AAMC domestic violence specialist.

In helping those patients, program workers first address basic needs such as food and clothing. They then expedite abuse screening and transfer the patient to a private room, where they are given support by counselors and are told of other resources in the community such as courts, shelters and police.

The goal, Burnett says, is to "empower" the patient to make educated decisions. In many cases, the victim's situation is made worse because their spouse controls the finances. The program will provide victims with donated food, phone cards, gas cards and gift cards to grocery stores and department stores.

The coordinators of the AAMC program would like every medical provider in the county to know about the hospital's resources and to educate students in public schools about domestic violence.

Information: 443-481-1209.

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