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Specialized care, mental health resources available to violent assault survivors

Trained forensic nurses provide assault patients with specialized medical treatments and can also connect them with mental health resources.

COLORADO, USA — The healing process can be a long one for victims of violent assault and can sometimes require medical treatment from specially-trained nurses – that's where the nurses in the Forensic Nurse Examiner Program at UCHealth come in. 

Nurses in the specialized program undergo anywhere between 25-50 hours of training, on top of a three hour orientation, according to program manager Christine Foote-Lucero. 

"Patients know that there’s specialized care for neurological services or cardiac services, but specialized care for patients affected by violence is, I think, still relatively new," said Foote-Lucero. 

The program offers specialized medical care and forensic-evidence collection to violence survivors. This includes patients affected by physical assault, sexual assault, strangulation, domestic violence, elder abuse and human trafficking. Patients can return within 7-10 days after their initial visit.

"We see these patients when they’re arguably having the worst day of their life and to bring them back is so fulfilling for the nurses," said Foote-Lucero. 

The trained forensic nurses began seeing patients in their outpatient center at UCHealth's Anschutz campus in April. Katelyn Hook, one of the nurses on the team, remembers treating her first patient through the program. 

"It is really amazing to see a patient come back after something so horrible happened, and to see that they’re doing ok," said Hook. 

Nurses with this program hope the resources available will help start a bigger conversation surrounding violence. 

"Everybody is affected across every gender, race, socioeconomic status and so we need to open the dialogue and we need to discuss it more," said Foote-Lucero. 

She said even if violent attacks do not leave physical marks or injuries, it's still important to see a specially trained forensic nurse. 

Foote-Lucero also said they don't want finances to be a barrier in seeking follow-up care after a violent event. 

"We do have patients that don’t have healthcare insurance and those patients tend to get dismissed after they get discharged from the emergency department," she said. 

UCHealth said billing for the outpatient center differs from the way billing is done in the emergency room. Hospital staff can connect people to resources like victims compensation. In some cases, Foote-Lucero said bills can be written off. 

Since opening the clinic in April, Foote-Lucero said they've seen an increase in patients. 

"Generally speaking, all types of voices are up right now, we are very busy. We’ve definitely seen an increase in our sexual assaults, in our strangulations and gunshot wounds and stabbings."

She said that just means people are coming in to get the help they need and encourages others to do so, as well. 

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