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'The severity of violence increased': UCHealth forensic nurses treating more violent crime victims

Forensic nurses detail shifts in violent crime trends.
Posted at 10:15 PM, Apr 19, 2022

AURORA, Colo. — The pandemic is believed to have fueled an increase of violent crime in the state. A team of specialized nurses in Aurora says they've seen that shift firsthand.

"I think its fair to say that the severity of violence increased, and I would attribute that to not only the stress of the pandemic but stay-at-home orders and things like that, which certainly isolated some people even further in these violent situations," said Christine Foote-Lucero, manager of forensic nurse examiner programs for University of Colorado Hospital and UCHealth Highlands Ranch Hospital.

Foote-Lucero, with the support of UCHealth, started the specialized program back in 2017, and a year ago, the program's outpatient clinic officially opened.

"The outpatient clinic is really important because it is the first and only adult outpatient clinic for forensic patients in the state," Foote-Lucero said. "In addition to caring for sexual assault patients, we also see patients that are affected by elder abuse, human trafficking, strangulation, intimate partner violence, gunshot wounds and stabbings."

Forensic nurse examiners (FNEs) offer initial appointments and follow-up care. Their efforts come as various communities across the country try to repair the relationship between police and the people they serve. Some criminal justice experts say providing adequate care to crime victims may be a crucial component.

"The FNE has hours and hours of specialized training in the specific areas of violence, as well as in patient affects after trauma, their memory recall and understanding how trauma affects the brain," Foote-Lucero said.

The specialized nurses also have advanced training on best evidence collection practices.

" there is the best chance for DNA for the investigation, and then we also are all trained in expert witness testimony," Foote-Lucero said.

This month, UCHealth's forensic nurse examiners have treated 176 patients, a 52 percent increase from April 2020 when the pandemic first began.

Like other healthcare professionals, the FNEs are mandated by the state to report cases of elder and child abuse. However, outside of those scenarios, if a patient doesn't want to report the crime to law enforcement, those wishes are respected.

For Foote-Lucero, her top priority is that victims seek care.

"To be able to tell someone that they matter and that they're valuable, and to be able to really just intersect on that cycle of violence is so incredibly important," she said.

To learn more about UCHealth's forensic nurse examiners, click here.