After COVID-19 made its first appearance in Wichita last March, Ascension Via Christi St. Joseph saw a significant drop in the number of patients who had suffered a sexual assault or other act of violence coming to its ER for care.
That was concerning, says Cathy Marlier, RN, one of the four full-time and six part-time specially trained nurses serving in Forensic Nursing, because they were worried that the vulnerable population that she and her teammates care for may be too afraid to get the care they needed.
By summer, the program was once again busy, caring for approximately 60 adult and pediatric patients a month as community concerns about coming to an ER subsided.
But then came November and the number suddenly dropped in half.
While it is typical to see some fluctuations in numbers, says Marlier, for the past two weeks the team has seen no patients during the day and no one has been called in to do an exam for the past two weekends.
"Sadly, in other departments that might be a good thing, but not in ours because we know that domestic violence, sexual assault and child or elder abuse are still happening," says Marlier. "Once again, we are afraid that patients may not be coming in to get the care they need because of concerns about high volumes and potential exposure."
But not getting the care they need could put them at far greater risk than coming to the hospital's ER, which has put into place vigorous cleaning, screening and other safety protocols to ensure everyone's safety.
Marlier says she and the other members of the Forensic Nursing team are there to ensure that patients who have been the victims of violence get the physical, emotional and spiritual care they need, along with the documentation that may be needed in order for them to get justice in a court of law.
After any medical trauma has been addressed, they are moved to a private area adjacent to the ER that was designed specifically to meet their needs.
The program, which was the first Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner/Sexual Assault Response Team in Kansas, has for more than two decades provided holistic care to patients ranging in age from newborns to seniors as old as 100-plus years of age.
Marlier says that now that more school age children will be doing distance learning, it is important that patients know about the program and the importance of not delaying care, which could put them at greater risk.
"We're worried that this could lead to an increase in instances of child abuse, but fewer reports because children may be isolated at home with an abuser," she says. "So we just want to make sure that people know that we are here to help."
Get additional help and resources from the Wichita Family Crisis Center