Sex assault center moves to new space in hospital
Evidence collected anonymously from 10 victims in first year of law
Going to the hospital can be intimidating for victims of sexual assault. The forensic nurses at Shady Grove Adventist Hospital, the only county hospital with sexual abuse specialists, want to change that.
The 13-year-old Sexual Abuse and Assault Center, recently renamed the Forensic Medical Unit, moved into an expanded space in the Rockville hospital last month. The unit, which has a private entrance, will have a grand opening in January to coincide with the first anniversary of the federal Violence Against Women act, which allows health providers to collect and save biological evidence from victims anonymously if they have not decided whether to report the assault to police.
The center's 10 forensic nurse examiners conduct medical exams, collect forensic evidence, document injuries, test for sexually transmitted diseases, provide mental health or follow-up care and testify in court if a victim decides to press charges, according to Heidi Bresee, coordinator of the Forensic Medical Unit, which has a partnership with the county. Sexual assaults on children and the elderly are always reported to police, Bresee said.
"The main emphasis is getting them health care and getting the evidence collected," Bresee said at an Upcounty Health Care Alliance meeting in Germantown Monday night. "...We explain the process in a very nurturing way that's different from the usual emergency room hustle-hustle atmosphere."
The center sees victims of other kinds of trauma, such as domestic, child and elder abuse, Bresee said. More than 2,500 patients, an average of 200 per year, have been seen at the center since it opened in 1996, and 10 people have opted to have evidence collected anonymously since January. It is estimated that 84 percent of rapes nationally are not reported to police, Bresee said.
"The way to have it not be such a taboo subject is the more we talk about it, the less stigma there is with reporting," Bresee said. "We're very happy to increase awareness, to make it not be a hidden problem. It's OK to talk about it."
Bresee discussed the changes at the third meeting of the Upcounty Health Care Alliance, which formed several months ago to address health disparities and access to care in the upcounty, co-chairwoman Grace Rivera-Oven said.
"Health care is one of those needs that everybody has," she said. "It's such a luxury to have insurance or access to health care, and the community feels that."
Teens with the nonprofit Identity, which provides programs for Latino youths, are also getting involved in health care issues. A group of youths from the program collected more than 200 letters from Germantown and upcounty residents in support of Adventist HealthCare's proposed hospital in Clarksburg and its existing Emergency Center in Germantown, according to Candace Kattar. The letter-writers said they have been pleased with the care they have received from Adventist and expressed support for creating jobs in Clarksburg, she said.
Holy Cross Hospital has also proposed building a hospital in Germantown. The Maryland Health Care Commission is expected to decide which hospital, if any, should be built by the spring at the earliest.