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Earlier this year, McLeod Health launched its Forensic Nurse Examiner program. For the first time, victims of sexual assault in the Pee Dee have access to specialized, trauma-informed care without having to leave the region. This program, years in the making, serves adult and pediatric victims alike, at first operating out of McLeod Regional Medical Center, but with plans to expand to all McLeod hospitals in the coming years. It was made possible by the generous support of donors to the McLeod Health Foundation.
Until now, victims of sexual violence in the region had to travel to Columbia or Charleston to receive a forensic exam. Hundreds of women have made this profoundly difficult journey over the years, but what is perhaps even more distressing is the number of women who chose not to do so.
Given the socioeconomic burdens faced by many Pee Dee residents and the debilitating nature of sexual assault itself, an untold number of victims have likely decided to forgo treatment altogether.
“The need for this program is clearly there, said Shannon Scott, Coordinator of the McLeod Forensic Nurse Examiner program. “Our first pediatric patient was just three years old.”
Forensic Nurses specialize in treating victims of sexual assault. In addition to providing care in a compassionate and understanding way, forensic nurses are trained on evidence collection, victim advocacy and courtroom testimony. Their duties do not end when the patient is discharged – these nurses connect victims to community resources to help them through their long-term recoveries and guide them through subsequent legal proceedings. Studies have shown that victims receiving forensic nursing care have higher satisfaction, better outcomes and less trauma than those who do not; and the offenders who hurt them are more likely to receive convictions.
“Our focus is the patient,” Shannon explained of herself and other Forensic Nurse Examiners. “We provide treatment, we collect evidence, and we provide testimony, but our overriding goal throughout is to not add to the patient’s trauma. This is what ‘trauma-informed care’ means.”
FNE Program at McLeod
McLeod now offers 24/7/365 forensic nurse coverage. Instead of sitting in the waiting room, victims of sexual violence entering the hospital’s Emergency Department are now immediately triaged and treated for physical injuries. While this acute medical exam takes place, an on-call forensic nurse is alerted and begins preparing a private room dedicated solely for sexual violence cases. Here, the nurse will first conduct a gentle interview with the patient to document the course of events. Next, the patient is brought to a dedicated exam room that, while equipped with state-of-the-art exam equipment, is specifically designed to provide a comfortable and homey environment.
In this room, the forensic exam, evidence collection and administration of appropriate medications take place.
“Our space is very comfortable,” said Shannon. “It is all about getting the patient through the exam with the least amount of trauma possible.”
In addition to a couch and recliner, exam rooms are equipped with various items to make the patient feel at home.
For instance, thanks to support from the McLeod Foundation’s Help Eliminate and Remove Obstacles (HERO) Fund, pediatric patients are given comfort bags containing teddy bears, coloring books, crayons and new clothes.
“I wish that donors could see the change in demeanor when we give a precious, frightened child a teddy bear to hold close or place a coloring book and crayons in their lap,” Shannon says. “And, they are so proud when we provide them new, pretty clothing. What a blessing this fund is for children.”
Passionate and Experienced Leadership
Shannon grew up in a law enforcement family. Her mother was a gang prevention specialist in Anaheim, California. Shannon would go on to work in evidence collection at the Police Department. After many years working as a flight attendant and a stay-at-home mom, Shannon decided to rekindle her passion for forensics work in a unique way.
“I went back to school and got my nursing degree just to be a Forensic Nurse,” Shannon recalled.
In Virginia, Shannon found her calling – leading a hospital’s forensic nursing program. For a decade, Shannon oversaw an active program that treated more than 600 sexual violence victims per year.
When her husband retired from the Fire Department, the couple pondered their next steps. That was when a job posting in Florence, South Carolina, caught Shannon’s eye.
“I had always dreamed of building a forensic nursing program from the ground up – to bring my years of experience and passion to a place without an existing program,” said Shannon. “McLeod gave me that opportunity.”
Although the McLeod Forensic Nursing program has recently launched, leadership already has an eye toward growth. Currently, six nurses work part-time to cover the call schedule at McLeod. Shannon envisions the program growing to not only include an entirely full-time staff and region-wide footprint, but to treat victims of other crimes besides sexual assault.
“I want us to provide specialized care for victims of elder abuse, domestic battery, sex trafficking and human trafficking,” Shannon stated. “Our goal is for the Pee Dee to go from the only region in South Carolina without a forensic program to having the best one in the state.”