Last week Sisters in Crime of Central Virginia visited St. Mary’s Hospital Forensic nursing unit. This unit of specially trained nurses handles some of the most difficult cases including sexual assault, domestic, child and elder abuse, as well as human trafficking cases.
Victims generally arrive at the hospital through the emergency room. Sometimes they walk in. Others are brought in by police or transported by ambulance.
Once the patient’s immediate physical traumas have been evaluated the goal is to get them up to the forensic nursing unit as quickly as possible.
The unit doesn’t look like a typical hospital setting and that’s for a reason. On this locked down unit away from the constant noise of the ER, there is no signage and the waiting area looks like a living room. Only one patient is admitted at a time. The entire set up is designed to minimize the trauma the patient has suffered. It is the busiest unit of its kind in Virginia.
Patients are examined and evidence is collected in special kits. The examination can take between 3-4 hours. If a victim does not wish to press charges, the nurses can still gather data and hold it for two years on the chance the victim has a change of heart. Based on exam results, the forensic nurse can advise patients on treatment and support. If a case goes to trial, the nurses will testify in court.
Continuity of care and follow up is important. Patients always receive a follow up call after they’ve been discharged. In the wake of trauma, a victim might have trouble recalling the details of the attack and it can take a couple of days before the brain settles and they are able to provide more detailed information to the investigators.
Nurses are on call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and they serve the entire Richmond Metro area. http://bit.ly/1XkttV5