(Macon, GA) – Coliseum Medical Centers is the first in Bibb County to offer a Forensic Nurse Examiners Program. These healthcare professionals are nurses first, but have over 80 hours of additional training and knowledge of forensics and the legal system to become Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners (SANEs). “Every patient who is sexually assaulted deserves to be met by someone who is trained in assessing a patient, identifying injury and collecting evidence. Forensic Nurses Examiners have the expertise to make sure the patient is not re-traumatized during an exam,” says Denise Atkinson, Forensic Nurse Examiners Coordinator at Coliseum Medical Centers.
Not all emergency departments have Forensic Nurse Examiners. The Forensic Nurse Examiners at Coliseum Medical Centers will treat you compassionately and guide you through the initial legal process, an area where most physicians and nurses do not have proper knowledge. “It is a vital best practice, not only for the prosecution of suspects, but also to ensure victims’ health and comfort and the safety of middle Georgia families,” said David Cooke, Bibb County District Attorney.
Additionally, the Forensic Nurse Examiners Program collaborates with several local agencies and programs that provide free and specialized services to patients of sexual assault. One agency, Crisis Line and Safe House provides an advocate to be with the patient through the exam process and provides clothing for the patient in the event their clothes are collected as evidence. “We are thrilled that Coliseum Medical Centers is offering the Forensic Nurse Examiners Program to patients, and are looking forward to a wonderful partnership working with their patients. Our community is long overdue for these services,” said Dee Simms, Executive Director at Crisis Line and Safe House of Central Georgia.
Sexual assault can happen to anyone, male or female, at any time. The aggressor can be someone familiar – a partner or family member – or a complete stranger. While no one plans to encounter a sexual assault, the unfortunate truth is that it can and does happen. Knowing what to do afterwards is a very important step in the healing and legal process. Whether the assault happened four days ago, or four hours ago, or even if there is speculation of an unwanted sexual encounter, all patients should consult with a Forensic Nurse Examiner (FNE). The forensic nurse will assess you for injuries, offer you choices, collect evidence, and offer information to move forward legally.
In addition to their training in sexual assaults, the Forensic Nurse Examiners at Coliseum Medical Centers also see patients involved in domestic violence and abuse of the elderly. All patients who believe they have been involved in an assault should immediately get to a safe place. Once safe, it is important to preserve evidence of the assault. Avoiding bathing, changing clothes, using the restroom, eating, drinking, smoking, brushing teeth, and cleaning the area where the assault took place are all recommended. But even if any of this has been done, there may still be evidence to collect. It is Coliseum Medical Centers’ goal to speak with every patient who has been sexually assaulted in order to provide options that are available both medically and legally. We understand that it can be a difficult decision to report. After making sure you are safe, the next step is to see a Forensic Nurse Examiner in Coliseum Medical Centers’ Emergency Department. You may also contact Denise Atkinson, the Forensic Nurse Examiners Coordinator at Coliseum Medical Centers directly, by calling: (478) 765-4123.
“Knowing that the patient does not have to wait in an emergency department waiting room with all the other patients and visitors until it is their turn to be seen but instead has a nurse who is trained in the assessment for injury and the collection of evidence and who will devote the time needed to them is very important to me,” said Atkinson when asked about the most fulfilling aspect of her role as a Forensic Nurse Examiner. “The care of a sexual assault patient and the collection of evidence should never be rushed but without nurses who are there specifically for these patients, the sexual assault patient becomes just one more patient being cared for by a nurse who has multiple patients.”
This week is National Forensic Nurses Week. Coliseum Medical Centers honors these nurses and celebrates the care that crime patients receive at our hospital.