In critical moments, Christiana Care’s forensic nurse examiners deliver sensitive, tender care to victims of abuse, neglect, violence and trauma. This unique, powerful blend of compassion, skill and specialized knowledge earned the forensic nurse examiner team Christiana Care’s inaugural DAISY Team Award in April.
The DAISY Award is an international nurse recognition program honoring excellence. The Professional Nurse Council administers the DAISY program at Christiana Care to celebrate nurses, nurse leaders and teams for their exceptional care. The team award recognizes collaboration and teamwork that make positive differences in the lives of patients, families and community members.
“The Forensic Nurse Examiner Team is a testament to the respectful, expert, caring partnerships Christiana Care strives for in serving our community,” said Chief Nurse Executive Ric Cuming, Ed.D., RN, NEA-BC, FAAN. “From their beginnings as pioneers in forensic nursing, they have continued to innovate and evolve in ways that advance their specialized care to support victims of violence and the programs that seek to prevent it.”
Forensic nurse examiners apply their expertise by obtaining a proper history, administering a safety assessment, identifying inflicted or accidental injuries, identifying and collecting evidence, and making written and photographic documentation. This gives the forensic nurse the ability to provide non-biased expert testimony in court.
Emergency Department Assistant Nurse Manager James Thomas, MSN, RN, nominated the team for the award, citing a growing list of accomplishments since the team’s inception as sexual assault nurse examiners in 1996.
Today, Christiana Care forensic nurse examiners provide comprehensive care for victims of sexual assault, domestic violence, child and elder abuse and neglect, pedestrians struck by vehicles, fire victims and victims of gunshots, stabbings and other major assaults that result in trauma or life threatening injuries.
With a forensic nurse examiner located in the Christiana Hospital Emergency Department 24/7, the team cares for more than 2,000 patients each year. Last year, the team responded to more than 200 subpoenas. In cases that go to trial, almost all accept the forensic nurse examiner as the sole medical testimony.
“Forensic nursing is not an easy profession. That these nurses choose to develop expertise in this area sets them apart,” said Linda Laskowski Jones, MS, APRN, ACNS-BC, CEN, FAWM, FAAN, vice president of emergency and trauma services. “In caring for a population that’s been through incredible trauma, they deal with the rawest and most intimate details. And these nurses develop a tremendous amount of knowledge to be expert in forensic sciences. It demands attention to detail and a high level of skill to secure objective evidence that is admissible in court.”
Laskowski Jones credits much of the team’s growth and success to the steadfast leadership and commitment of Anita Symonds MS, BSN, RN, SANE-A, SANE-P, coordinator of the Nurse Examiners Program.
“We see significant injuries and unexpected deaths from all kinds of trauma and violence. Our nurses are driven by a passion for the work we do, unbreakable team camaraderie and amazing support from our colleagues,” said Symonds.
In 2006, the team extended their services by partnering with Christiana Care’s trauma team to collect forensic evidence for victims of violence. The forensic nurses work alongside the team as they’re trying to save a life, documenting and photographing wound characteristics, identifying and collecting potential evidence while preserving the chain of custody of medical evidence.
In 2011 they received specialized training to recognize characteristics of gunshot wounds. This training enables them to recognize entrance versus exit wounds, and range and direction of fire. As a result, the person who cannot speak for himself or herself now has the opportunity to have an accurate history of the event told.
The team of 22 nurses also steps out into the community for outreach and educational programs.
“The team is amazing in how they care for a delicate population,” said Tammy Layer, MSN, RN, OCN, nurse navigator with the supportive and palliative care team and co-chair of the Professional Nurse Council. “When patients arrive in the ER, the nurses support them physically and emotionally, help their families deal with the trauma and guide them to follow-up resources. As advocates for victims and the justice system, our forensic nursing team is a small group that makes a huge impact on our community.”
The forensic nurse team has earned national recognition from the Emergency Nurses Association and U.S. Department of Justice for providing emergency care of crime victims and forensic expertise at trials.
The Professional Nurse Council at Christiana Care selects DAISY Award recipients using a blinded selection process based on nominations from patients, families, staff and volunteers. All nurses — inpatient, outpatient and VNA — are eligible.