Spectrum Health Lakeland reminds citizens that care for assault victims is still available

SOUTHWEST MICHIGAN — The “Stay Home, Stay Safe” mandate is a preventative measure handed down from Michigan’s Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to help protect residents from COVID-19’s catching nature. However, for some, staying home does not staying safe.

Spectrum Health Lakeland’s Forensic Care and Advocacy program’s Alyssa Pliml reminded the public that her team is there to help.

The Forensic Care and Advocacy department within Spectrum Health Lakeland,   formerly known as the SANE (sexual assault nurse examiners) program, is made up of specially trained nurses ready to give care to those who have suffered from a physical attack.

“Staying home is not safe for many people,” Pliml said. “Forty-six percent of the victims of violence we saw at Lakeland over the last 16 months were assaulted by someone living in their home.”

Pliml wants the community to know that her team’s emergency services will continue to be available for survivors of multiple types of assault.

“A sexual assault nurse examiner and forensic nurse can provide care to people who have been affected by physical abuse of all ages,” Pliml said. “Sexual abuses or assault, elder abuse, and what we do for our patients is one-on-one care.”

The department is run through the Spectrum Health Lakeland emergency rooms. When a person arrives who is a victim, or survivor, of violence, the emergency room will call a SANE nurse to come in to work with that person. As with the emergency room, these services are also available 24-hours a day.

“They do see a medical provider and a nurse, as well,” Pliml said. “We are on call. We come in and give them our specialized care along with the rest of their medical care.”

These services are deemed as essential, emergency services in the state, and will continue going forward through the COVID-19 pandemic.

Pliml expressed concern about the public and its safety as residents continue to stay at home, sometimes with an abuser.

“It makes us worry that people are getting hurt at home and not communicating with the emergency department that they don’t think that it’s an emergency,” Pliml said.

While Pliml said she acknowledges that potential patients may be avoiding making a trip to the hospital under fear of contracting COVID-19, she reassures those on the fence that the hospital is taking extra precautions.

“Lakeland has instituted very careful guidelines for preventing the spread of COVID-19 within their facilities,” she said. “I would encourage anyone who is concerned [to reach out]. If they want to weigh their pros and cons, they can go ahead and give us a call, and we can talk about what happened.”

The Forensic Care and Advocacy works for the health of the patients, and not for law enforcement, Pliml said.

“We work for you,” she said. “We want to make sure that we can coordinate with our patients to give them what they need to start on the path of healing from the assault.”

One aspect of care provided by Forensic Care and Advocacy is performing an emergency forensic exams, which can be given up to 120 hours after an assault. This time frame gives the nurses the ability to provide pregnancy prevention medication, antibiotics to prevent certain sexually transmitted infections, as well as a prescription that can help prevent HIV. If the assault occurred outside of that window, staff members are still able to help by connecting the patient with resources.

The goal of the exam is not just for collecting an evidence kit. If a patient opts out of the kit, there are other ways to address their care.

“Just because they don’t want to have evidence collected, they can still get other very important care,” Pliml said.

The care offered by the Spectrum Health Lakeland facilities will remain available to those who need it throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Victims and survivors of violence who are unsure of whether they should go to the emergency room are encouraged by Pliml to call the hospital to be put in contact with a SANE trained nurse from Forensic Care and Advoacy.