Bon Secours St. Mary’s Hospital’s Forensic Nurse Examiner Program
Providing Innovative Leadership
Although forensic nursing was not officially recognized by the American Nurses Association until 1995, St. Mary’s Hospital (SMH) – following a long-standing tradition of innovation – started a Forensic Nurse Examiner program two years earlier in 1993, because three exceptional nurses recognized the community need for a program that provided specialized care for sexual assault patients. At that time, nurses and physicians received little to no training in the care of this vulnerable and underserved population. Furthermore, these already emotionally traumatized victims had to wait in the ER for hours before ever being seen and received no counseling referrals or other support during what had to be the worst time in their lives. The St. Mary’s nurses, however, decided to change that. They attended a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner training program, and less than a few hours after the training ended, one of the nurses was called to put her new skills to work in the ER. The team performed 42 examinations in the first year. Once local law enforcement learned of our specially trained nurses who could collect evidence and would testify in court, they started bringing more victims to St. Mary’s.
Area police officers talk with Clinical Coordinator of Forensic Nurse Examiners, Bonnie Price,
at St. Mary's Hospital.
Providing a Regional Resource of Clinical Experts
Today, St. Mary’s is the only hospital in this region of 1+ million residents with a full-time dedicated staff of forensic nurse examiners to care for these vulnerable patients. Currently we have 10 forensic nurse examiners on-call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, including 5 full-time, 1 part-time and 4 PRN (as needed) nurses. Our team serves 110 patients per month for cases involving pediatric and adult sexual assault, pediatric and adult physical assault, domestic and elder abuse. In 2010, our team answered 781 calls for service. More than half of all sexual assault patients were under the age of 18, and less than 1% were men. Forty-two percent of the exams were for physical assault, 61% of these were pediatric cases, with the majority of exams being conducted on pediatric patients under the age of five.
St. Mary's Hospital
St. Mary’s Forensic Nurse Examiner program is also unique in that it serves 23 jurisdictions, more than any other program in Virginia. Many of the hospitals in these outlying jurisdictions (some as far as two hours away) don’t have forensic nursing services and thus rely on St. Mary’s to provide them. Just as important, according to Dr. N. Billy Lennarz, Vice President, Medical Affairs, Pediatrics, Bon Secours Virginia, is that “very few forensic programs, especially those based in hospital Emergency Departments, have the skill set to take care of children. So the Forensic Nurse Examiner program at St. Mary’s Hospital is extremely unique because of the very precise set of skills that these nurses bring to the bedside of children who have undergone the most traumatic experience possible.”
The program is located in a secure suite on St. Mary’s campus that operates as a clinic for patients and offices for the program staff. It includes a children’s interview room; exam rooms and a waiting room/reception area. Its location is intentionally kept low-key for the safety and protection of our staff and patients.