The tragic results of domestic violence are appearing all too frequently on the pages of our local newspapers and broadcast from our local news stations. These stories are chilling reminders that this is a problem that affects every one of us in some way. Victims are our friends, our neighbors, our coworkers and our relatives. As part of the health care community, we realize too well that domestic violence is a serious health issue. But are we doing enough?

At MaineGeneral we’ve been on a long journey to increase awareness of domestic abuse and bolster services to victims. We include domestic violence information as part of our new employee orientation; we’ve made annual online domestic violence training mandatory for every employee so they will know what resources are available in our region. A system-wide domestic abuse policy spells out what domestic abuse is, how to spot it and what to do about it. We work closely with the Family Violence Project and law enforcement and hold two-day trainings annually for our doctors, our nurses and other clinicians to further hone their skills to recognize the signs of domestic abuse and ask the right questions to uncover abusive situations for patients often too fearful to admit it.

Every year we treat approximately 60 victims of domestic violence in our emergency departments. But we know that’s only a fraction of the actual cases that come through our doors.

Our security officers work with at-risk employees and patients to keep them safe in our facilities. They provide escort service to and from parking lots, hide their vehicles, help complete and file protection orders and provide help and guidance in developing individual safety plans. Our human resources department arranges emergency leave for employees to attend legal proceedings and move from their unsafe homes. We have an ongoing and vigilant workplace violence prevention team and a policy of zero tolerance for any kind of threatening, physically or verbally abusive behavior.

Since 1999, we have invested in special training for staff to become forensic nurse examiners. Today we’re proud to have 12 certified sexual assault nurse examiners on staff — more than any other hospital in the state. These special individuals treat not only victims of sexual abuse, but lend their one-on-one caring and support to all patients suffering from domestic violence whether they are in our hospital or in outlying physician offices. Last year, we worked with Inland Hospital, Redington-Fairview General Hospital in Skowhegan and Sebasticook Valley Hospital in Pittsfield, to share these nurses and provide around-the-clock coverage throughout Kennebec and Somerset counties. They answer every call for help, day or night.

But when we read about the victims — mothers murdered in front of young children, whole families gone forever — and ask if we are we doing enough, the answer is, regrettably, no. No single agency, hospital or other organization has enough resources to do this work alone. It calls on all of us. The job is just too big. We need to work together to keep awareness of domestic violence at the forefront, we need to increase safe havens where it’s okay for victims to admit they are victims and get the help and support they need. We all need to be unafraid to ask the tough questions and extend a helping hand.


Scott B. Bullock is president and chief executive officer at MaineGeneral Health.

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