LINCOLN SQUARE — Swedish Covenant Hospital’s “trauma-informed” strategy for treating survivors of domestic violence, human trafficking and sexual assault has caught the attention of the federal government — and now they’ll be able to expand their reach even further.
The U.S. Department of Justice awarded the hospital at 5140 N. California Ave. a two-year, $950,000 grant to support its health care services for survivors. Swedish Covenant was one of just eight organizations nationwide to receive the grant.
The new grant will allow the hospital to continue supporting survivors via the training of about 1,000 clinicians in trauma-informed medical, dental and mental health care for survivors of these types of violence, said Kate Lawler, director of the violence prevention program at Swedish.
The grant will also allow the hospital to expand an on-call pool of Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners, registered nurses with special training to provide comprehensive care to sexual assault victims, as well as equipment to strengthen evidence collection techniques.
“If someone comes into a hospital and is interested in pursuing any kind of criminal charges for a sexual assault, a lot rides on the evidence collected when they’re in the emergency room,” Lawler said. “And when we are working with someone who’s experienced something where power and control has been taken away from them, a [medical professional] has to be very aware of the power dynamics between them and the patient.”
So health care providers have to be aware of how their choice of words and body language when asking for consent for a medical assessment — even where they’re standing in the room in relation to the patient — can impact a survivor’s wellbeing and recovery.
“This can all make a difference in whether a patient feels they’re in another situation where someone has power over them or if they feel like we are treating them in a way where they feel they have options,” Lawler said.
The grant will also help the hospital connect survivors with support services before they leave the hospital to assist with their physical, emotional and financial recovery.
“While they’re still in the hospital we ask if they need access to a shelter? A safe ride home? Do they know how to get an order of protection? Do they know what their rights are?” Lawler said.
Lawler said the hospital launched a violence prevention program about four years ago in an effort to identify patients silently suffering before it’s too late.
“Staff needs to be trained to pick up on red flags to identify survivors and then know how to ask questions in a way that won’t shut someone down or make someone feel that they’re being judged,” Lawler said. “To be sensitive to how difficult it is to disclose something like that in a health care setting.”
To help the hospital go that extra mile, they partner with organization that specialize in such issues, including Apna Ghar, Between Friends, KAN-WIN, Salvation Army STOP-IT, Lutheran Social Services of Illinois, Chicago Metropolitan Battered Women’s Network, Resilience and the Lincoln (20th) Police District.
Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority, a state agency focused on improving procedures and practices in the state’s criminal justice system, recorded 59,213 individuals who received sexual violence services from one of the state’s 30 rape crisis centers during the eight-year period between 2011 and 2018.
During calendar year 2018, 12,410 people received sexual violence services from one of the state’s 30 rape crisis centers, said Cristin Evans, spokesperson for the Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority.
Additionally, 4,700 rapes were reported to law enforcement across the state in 2016, the most recent year statistics are available, according to Illinois State Police’s Uniform Crime Reporting Data.
Last year, the state also passed a “survivors’ bill of rights” aimed at removing barriers to reporting sexual assaults. The measure was one of the final pieces of legislation Kwame Raoul sponsored as a state senator before being elected as Illinois Attorney General.
The law requires the state to preserve rape kits as long as there’s a possibility of prosecution and to guarantee survivors access to a shower at no cost as soon as possible after a physical exam. Additionally, anyone reporting a sexual assault or asking for emergency medical assistance for a survivor of sexual assault “shall not be charged or prosecuted for … felony possession of a … controlled substance…,” according to the new law.
“Some of what we’re doing is kind of going above and beyond what the law requires with this grant,” Lawler said. “We developed the track record with this type of care before the law and I think that gave us the experience and understanding to be awarded this grant.”
Last year, the hospital also completed a two-year renovation of its emergency room, which added a special area dedicated to sexual assault care with a restroom with a private shower.
The renovation aimed to make the emergency room a more comfortable place for sexual assault survivors, Lawler said.
“The emergency room is the front door to the hospital. Sometimes a survivor will come from a primary care office or another part of the hospital, but the emergency room is really important to these issues,” she said.
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