Editor’s Note: This story by Nora Doyle-Burr was first published in the Valley News on December 21.
RANDOLPH — The recent restart of Gifford Health Care’s Sexual Assault Forensic Nurse program means survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence no longer need to leave the White River Valley for care.
Gifford, which is based in Randolph, has long had a few nurses trained to provide these forensic services, which can include helping to collect genetic evidence after an attack, detecting and preventing infection, and helping survivors begin to heal. of the trauma.
But now he has a team of eight, including five trained to treat adults and children, and three trained to treat adults only. The size of that team makes them confident that they can offer assistance whenever people need it.
Marie Abare, a registered nurse who is the manager of Gifford’s SANE program and who previously ran a similar program at Central Vermont Medical Center in Berlin, said she is passionate about providing this type of care to patients.
“It’s just a different type of nursing care,” Abare said. “As difficult as it is, it is also rewarding. It feels rewarding because you’re doing something for someone.”
Gifford’s eight forensic nurses are among about 95 accredited in the state, according to Raenetta Liberty, clinical coordinator for the Vermont Forensic Nursing Program. Nurses at all 14 Vermont hospitals, including the White River Junction VA Medical Center, are trained to care for victims of sexual assault, but only a few hospitals have nurses trained to also care for domestic violence and strangulation, as well as any Anything to do with sexual abuse.
That smaller list includes the University of Vermont Medical Center in Burlington, Central Vermont Medical Center in Berlin, Brattleboro Memorial Hospital, Rutland Regional Hospital and now Gifford, Liberty said.
“Since the (covid-19) pandemic, we have had more interest in the program from nurses,” Liberty said. “I think everyone is looking for meaning in their work. This can provide nurses who are somewhat frustrated (and) burned out (with) a new perspective on caring for people.”
The nurses on the Gifford forensic team have pagers and will be called when a patient arrives at the Gifford emergency room or a primary care provider’s office, said Jill Markowski, Gifford’s vice president of nursing. They provide personalized care for the duration of a person’s treatment, whether it takes one hour or six. Sometimes, if the patient decides to get the police involved, the nurse may end up testifying in court.
Before Gifford reinstated this full-time program, Markowski said, Gifford’s providers would evaluate survivors and then refer them to another hospital, such as Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon, New Hampshire, or Central Vermont Medical Center in Berlin, but they had to drive by themselves and often would not go. CVMC is a half hour drive from Randolph, while Dartmouth Hitchcock is about 45 minutes.
“It’s hard enough for them to present the trauma,” Markowski said.
Offering care in Gifford also means that patients can be accompanied during these assessments by an advocate from Safeline, the Chelsea-based organization that provides support to survivors of domestic and sexual violence in Orange County and five cities in North Windsor County.
“This is a big deal and we really appreciate Gifford re-engineering this program and growing it,” said Linda Ingold, Safeline’s CEO.
Like Markowski, Ingold stressed the importance of offering service closer to where people live because they may not seek such personal attention outside of their own community.
“It makes a big difference to go (to) someone you trust, someone you know in the community,” Ingold said. “That helps alleviate some of the fear and the unknown.”
Additionally, Ingold said forensic nurses can help educate others in the community, such as law enforcement and other health care providers, on things like how to recognize signs of strangulation or what to do when people have been assaulted.
It’s “very important to have all of that here,” Ingold said. “It’s just great.”
The service is reopening at a time when the locks of the initial covid-19 pandemic are over and Safeline is seeing that, in some cases, domestic violence has escalated and become more violent, Ingold said.
“Because everyone waited and couldn’t do anything,” he said. “They were trapped during that time.”
Safeline and Gifford have a system for staff from either non-profit organization to communicate with each other.
That way, “nobody’s going to be walking around in the cold,” Ingold said. They can “all be ready as a team.”
Outside of medical care, Safeline advocates can help survivors file for redress for abuse or stalking, or help them find a new place to live.
“I hope people take advantage of it,” Ingold said of the program.
The SANE program can be accessed through the Gifford Emergency Department at 44 S. Main Street in Randolph or by speaking with a primary care provider.
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