CoxHealth has received nearly $600,000 to expand its services for sexual assault survivors.
Lana Garcia, forensic program coordinator for CoxHealth, said the money will be used for additional services and staff for anyone needing forensic services.
"It's our sincerest hope that this grant will help empower local communities to feel more comfortable with caring for forensic patients," she said, "help forensic patients have better care at the hospital level and then, in turn, have a better legal continuum as they have now been served with better documentation, more trauma-informed care and a smoother discharge process that is community specific."
Some of the grant money will be used to create a comprehensive telehealth system to improve care for victims of sexual assault in rural areas of southwest Missouri, specifically, Barton, Barry and Lawrence Counties.
Garcia said the telehealth system will allow victims who don’t have a sexual assault nurse examiner at the hospital at which they seek help, to still get the same level of care.
"And that's what we need to start to eliminate," she said, "is, how do we bridge these gaps so everyone who comes into CoxHealth gets the same high level of care that we deliver here in Springfield?"
Other things the grant money from the U.S. Department of Justice will fund include additional sexual assault nurse examiners to provide forensic exams at CoxHealth’s hospitals in Springfield, Branson and Monett; the establishment of a sexual assault response team in Barry, Barton, Lawrence, Stone and Taney Counties; and forensic training for emergency department nurses at three CoxHealth hospitals. It also will be used to purchase more equipment for forensic exams, to provide clothing and comfort items for victims undergoing exams and to hold annual community education forms to discuss prevention and treatment resources.
And there's a significant need for those services, according to Garcia.
"Sexual assault in our area is huge," she said. "Statistically, depending on what you're looking at, it's one in four to one in six, so if you imagine that 25 percent of our female population has been sexually assaulted or been a victim of sexual assault at one point in time in their life, that's an epidemic. That's something that we need to be aware of as a society and start to take steps to negate that before it happens, which is why good forensic programs also focus on prevention."
The awards include a $363,667 grant from the U.S. Department of Justice's Office on Violence Against Women and a $227,202.67 grant awarded by the Missouri Department of Social Services Victims of Crime Act, administered by the U.S. Department of Justice's Office for Victims of Crimes.