BAMC now offers forensic healthcare services to sexual assault victims

By Lori NewmanOctober 12, 2023

BAMC now offers forensic healthcare services to sexual assault victims
Jennifer Lopez, forensic healthcare program manager, talks with a patient in an exam room designated specifically for the forensic healthcare program at Brooke Army Medical Center, Joint Base San Antonio – Fort Sam Houston, Texas, Oct. 4, 2023. Forensic healthcare examiners are specially trained to provide comprehensive treatment to victims of sexual assault, intimate partner violence and domestic abuse. (DoD photo by Jason W. Edwards) (Photo Credit: Jason W. Edwards) VIEW ORIGINAL

JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas, Oct. 12, 2023 -- Brooke Army Medical Center now has a specially trained team who can provide forensic healthcare services to service members and beneficiaries who are the victims of sexual assault or other abuse.

BAMC’s forensic healthcare examiners are nurses or providers who can offer medical forensic examinations in conjunction with the healthcare team to ensure the safety and well-being of the patient. They are specially trained to provide comprehensive treatment to victims of sexual assault and intimate partner violence/domestic abuse.

Forensic services are available and can be coordinated through the Emergency Department 24 hours a day with an on-call team consisting of 11 nurse examiners and one support assistant.

“In the past we have not had specially-training forensic healthcare examiners at BAMC,” explained Jennifer Lopez, registered nurse and BAMC forensic healthcare program manager. “Patients who needed that type of exam would be referred to another facility where they would often have to wait long periods of time for the exam or even be asked to come back at a later time.”

Even though sample collection can be done up to 168 hours after an assault, many patients would not come back if asked to return later for an examination, Lopez explained.

The forensic exams take time because of the sensitivity and detail required. Forensic healthcare examiners perform a physical examination, collect medical forensic samples, and take photographs of the injuries. They also provide emotional support and can assist the patient with reporting the incident to the police and helping with safety planning and follow-up care.

“Informed consent is required each step of the way and can be withdrawn at any time,” Lopez said. “We go at the speed of the patient’s comfort and exams can take several hours.”

Lopez communicated the needs of the program with senior leadership and asked for volunteers to participate and BAMC nurses rose to the occasion.

“The show of support for this patient population has been overwhelming,” she said. “I have a waiting list currently to be part of the program. That goes to show you the level of support we have at BAMC, not only on the leadership side, but at the bedside as well.”

Danielle Norman, emergency department registered nurse, decided to become a forensic healthcare examiner because she felt the need to help patients who have been assaulted to recover both physically and emotionally.

“I like to see people overcome or overcoming a traumatic situation,” Norman said. “Part of overcoming is figuring out how to heal and I think it helps knowing you have just that one person who is in your corner. One person who is there rooting for you.

“I think showing grace, compassion, and kindness to someone in a difficult situation might help them see that there is good in the world,” she added. “I won’t be able to help everyone, but I like to think I will help a couple so that’s important it to me.”