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IHS Forensic Healthcare Professionals Assist Patients Healing from Trauma

by Theresa Friend, National Forensic Nurse Consultant, Division of Behavioral Health, IHS HQ and Erica Gourneau, RN, BSN, National Forensic Nurse Coordinator, Division of Behavioral Health, IHS HQ.

During Domestic Violence Awareness month, we want to highlight the work of forensic healthcare within the IHS. Victims of violence and abuse require care from forensic health professionals who are trained to treat trauma and provide forensic medical care for injuries sustained from violent acts such as sexual assault, intimate partner violence, neglect or other forms of intentional injury.  The availability of forensic healthcare is a critical element for healing in Native communities.

Native people experience the highest rates of interpersonal violence. A 2016 report from the Department of Justice found that more than half of Native people have experienced some form of sexual violence. Forensic healthcare experts provide medical treatment and evaluation and have specialized knowledge in injury identification. Forensic healthcare specialists also collect evidence and give testimony that can be used in a court of law to apprehend or prosecute perpetrators.  These professionals come from a variety of disciplines such as registered nurses, family nurse practitioners, and physician assistants.

It is the responsibility of every provider at IHS to not only screen for intimate partner violence (IPV), but also provide high quality and responsive care to patients who report IPV in any form. Even if your health care professional is not trained to be a forensic health care professional, the standards of care for victims of abuse are still the same. IHS healthcare providers are required to have annual domestic and sexual violence training. The training can be found on the Tribal Forensic Healthcare Exit Disclaimer: You Are Leaving www.ihs.gov website. Please visit the site to check out the available training in sexual assault/sexual abuse examination and intimate partner violence examination. The site also allows access to webinars on topics such as strangulation evaluation, historical trauma, neurobiology of trauma, and forensic photography.

Staying connected with forensic professionals serving Native communities is easy using a couple of online tools. The Forensic Healthcare listserv is a place to share information on upcoming webinars, training, funding opportunities. The listserv has approximately 500 professionals serving Native survivors of violence from a variety of tribal, federal, and state agencies. We also have a webpage with many helpful resources for both professionals and patients. The IHS Forensic Healthcare webpage offers easy access to pertinent policies and national protocols. Any professionals working with survivors of intentional trauma, or that want to work with this special population are encouraged to get connected with our group.

And finally, Technical Assistance (TA) is available by contacting Terry Friend, CNM, National Forensic Nurse Consultant and Erica Gourneau, RN National Forensic Nurse Coordinator. We can assist with policy development, troubleshooting issues within your programs, linking your community to additional resources, and providing guidance with setting up your coordinated community response, Sexual Assault Response Teams (SART), and multidisciplinary teams (MDT).

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Theresa Friend, National Forensic Nurse Consultant, Division of Behavioral Health, IHS HQ

Theresa Friend is the National Forensic Nurse Consultant in the Division of Behavioral Health at IHS Headquarters.

Erica Gourneau, RN, BSN, National Forensic Nurse Coordinator, Division of Behavioral Health, IHS HQ.

Erica Gourneau, RN, BSN, is a National Forensic Nurse Coordinator in the Division of Behavioral Health at IHS Headquarters.