UCHealth Memorial Hospital Central opened a first-of-its-kind medical unit dedicated solely to providing forensic nursing care to patients who have experienced sexual assault, physical assault or other types of abuse.
The new 3,700-square-foot Forensic Center of Excellence, funded through a $3 million grant from the Colorado Division of Criminal Justice, includes five exam rooms and a nurses’ station. It also houses an expanding forensic telehealth program that supports more than a dozen rural hospitals and clinics across Colorado, ensuring patients who have experienced violence or abuse can receive care in or near their own communities. The new center opened in the spring.
In 2022, UCHealth’s team of sexual assault nurse examiners (SANE) and sexual assault forensic examiners (SAFE) in Colorado Springs provided care to 2,515 patients needing specialized services, including sexual assault medical forensic exams. Most patients were seen at Memorial Hospital Central, which currently has one dedicated exam room in its emergency department for medical forensic services.
“Although the new unit is adjacent to our Emergency Department, the environment will be quieter and calmer than the often-chaotic nature of a Level I Trauma Center,” said Sarah Hagedorn, clinical manager for the forensic nursing team at UCHealth Memorial Hospital. “We want it to feel like a protected space where patients feel safe.
“The unit also provides us with a dedicated telehealth space to better assist nurses in rural communities of Colorado who may only perform this type of exam a few times a year. At the same time that a nurse is in an exam room with a patient in this unit in Colorado Springs, another of our specialty nurses might be on an iPad in our telehealth area down the hall, assisting a nurse in Gunnison with an exam,” Hagedorn added. “The telehealth programs are important because it means patients don’t have to travel hours for care after experiencing trauma. They can get it in their own community – be it in Telluride, Cortez or Montrose or Burlington, Trinidad or Hugo.”
Not only does Memorial Hospital partner with 14 rural telehealth programs, it also is responsible for the Colorado SANE/SAFE Project, which trains medical professionals across Colorado to care for victims of sexual assault, intimate partner violence, child abuse and neglect, elder abuse, human trafficking and strangulation. The hospital has provided free, comprehensive sexual assault education and training to clinicians throughout Colorado since 2013.
“We are proud to be able to host nurses and students from across Colorado to teach and mentor them in the care of patients who have experienced violence,” said Megan Lechner, forensic nursing project manager at Memorial and the SANE/SAFE Project director. “Most programs in Colorado do not see the volume of patients that we do, so having the ability to offer them the experience of working with our team helps to build their competence and confidence, which they then take back to their individual communities.”
Memorial is known both nationally and internationally for its Forensic Nurse Examiner program.
“For more than a decade, the team at Memorial Hospital has had the privilege to offer expert care and support to patients who have experienced sexual assault and other types of violence,” said Tamera Dunseth Rosenbaum, Memorial’s chief nursing officer. “Now, with this new state-of-the-art center, we can take the expertise and knowledge that our nurses and providers have and expand these services to help bring that same care to patients across Colorado. This center is truly an extraordinary space with extraordinary, dedicated staff.”