Greater Baltimore Medical Center Thursday will open a new space in its hospital to treat victims of sexual assault, domestic violence and human trafficking.
The new space, designed to make patients feel comfortable, will open at a time when the hospital is seeing more patients.
GBMC has been at the forefront of a movement by health care providers to put more resources into helping patients who have been victims of sexual violence. Laura Clary, the clinical program manager of the GBMC Sexual Assault Forensic Examination (SAFE) and domestic violence program, attributed the industry shift to increased awareness.
“People don’t like to talk about sexual violence. People don’t like to talk about child abuse,” she said. “I feel like over the years … is this increased awareness that, yes it is happening in our communities. It’s happening in every single community, and we can no longer turn a blind eye to it and we have to do something.”
Last October, the GBMC program saw more patients than it had in any other month, according to the hospital. Over the last three months of the year it performed 74 forensic examinations and cared for 112 domestic violence patients, both significant increases. It has also seen 15 victims of human trafficking since April.
The new 2,500-square-foot space is located away from the emergency department. It more than doubles the size of the previous space used by the program, which was right next to the emergency department.
The space will help house the program and its 19 forensic nurses.They will treat a range of victims from different parts of the region.
“These crimes, they don’t discriminate,” Clary said. “We see victims from all over. It happens in Towson, it happens in Essex, it happens in Timonium. We see men, we see women, we see children. We’re starting to see a lot more from the LGBT community. We really wanted to create an inclusive space that everybody would feel comfortable in regardless of their demographics.”
The space has a private entrance, larger examination rooms, an interview room, a comfortable waiting area with snacks and coffee and a place to securely keep evidence from forensic examinations.
Clary and the program work closely with the Baltimore County Police Department and other community partners. They solicited input from them to find out what was missing in the old space that might make victims more comfortable.
That led to the inclusion of a blanket warmer and coffee machines.
The space has been designed to make patients comfortable, treat them medically and to collect evidence.
The beds have been designed to look like recliners that can be converted into a stretcher when it is time for an exam. There are also sound machines to help keep patients calm.
“We tried to make it feel very homey and relaxing, very calming and soothing for them,” Clary said. “While it’s really kind of soft and calm and healing, it’s also very kind of clinical and sterile so we can still do a really good job with our collection and maintaining chain of custody and other things.”
Almost everything in the space has been designed intentionally, including the paint, a neutral but comforting blue that is also practical — it serves as a good background for forensic photographs.
Other features include an interview room wired for sound and video but with items to help kids feel comfortable; showers more like what you would find at home than in a hospital room; and more spacious examination rooms.
The space has also been made secure. The suite is unmarked in the hospital and buzzers are required to get in.