Safety Comes First
One thing for sure about domestic violence: it can happen to people of all ages, races, incomes, and education, to men as well as women. And, although there is no typical victim, all abusive relationships share a similar characteristic: the abuser exerts power and control over the victim.
More than half of the domestic violence patients who come through the doors of Anne Arundel Medical Center initially come here for other reasons—to give birth or to have surgery or other procedures. Patients often are identified as possible domestic violence victims during admissions screening, conducted by nurses trained to know the signs and behaviors of abuse. Domestic violence victims also may be admitted to the hospital for anxiety or depression—two symptoms of abuse—through the Emergency Department. However and whenever these patients are admitted, AAMC’s domestic violence counselors are available to help them 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
AAMC has drawn the attention of other institutions in Maryland for its innovative care of patients who are victims of domestic violence. Most hospitals bring in outside counselors to help meet the special needs of these patients, but AAMC has established its own hospital-based Abuse and Domestic Violence program.
Led by co-coordinators China McHold and Nicole White, the AAMC program is based on the philosophy that protecting patients from future harm is crucial to meeting the community’s health care needs. The staff help victims plan for safety regardless of the patient’s intention to leave or stay in the relationship. The staff also provides assessment and other support services. In 2006 the unit received the Governor’s Victim Assistance Award for the program, which is one of only a handful of hospital-based programs in the country. In 2006 AAMC’s program assisted more than 1,000 patients.
In October,AAMC and the Maryland Health Care Coalition Against Domestic Violence co-led a conference on hospital- based abuse and domestic violence programs, sponsored by the Biophilia Foundation of Severna Park. Hospital administrators and counselors from the state came to AAMC to learn best practices for creating such a program.
To further bolster the program and support the unit, the Verizon Foundation donated $52,500 to the AAMC Foundation. This donation will help AAMC purchase 250 safety planning kits for the victims of domestic violence who come into the hospital’s Emergency Department for care. These kits include a set of small, concealable gift cards that provide emergency financial support for a victim of violence who must quickly leave a dangerous home environment.