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New high-tech equipment helps detect child abuse

May 27, 2003|by MARLO BARNHART

marlob@herald-mail.com

A new high-tech camera that can find the "hairs on a strawberry" is causing a lot of excitement at the Washington County Child Advocacy Center.

That same camera, known as MedScope, can detect signs of child abuse that might not be obvious to the naked eye. Dr. Ruth Dwyer, a Hagerstown pediatrician, conducts clinics at the center and is now aided by the new equipment.

"Although all pediatricians do abuse evaluations, the percentage of cases that we pick up is low," Dwyer said. "This equipment comes into play and magnifies everything so we can see more."

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The first of its kind in Washington County, the MedScope system can detect both external and internal abuse. And, Dwyer said, it also can rule out abuse that may have been suspected through a regular checkup.

Washington County Hospital is expected to have a MedScope in its emergency room by July to handle acute cases of abuse when the victims are first seen for medical treatment, said Joyce Williams, a registered nurse who works with Dwyer at the center.

The MedScope equipment, which cost between $15,000 and $20,000, was paid for by the Victims of Crime Assistance Fund, according to Teresa Thorn, program manager at the center.

Dwyer has been practicing with Antietam Pediatrics at 1198 Kenly Ave. for about 41/2 years. When the Washington County Health Department approached the doctor in her office about doing pediatric work at the center, Dwyer signed on about a year ago.

"It's something that needs to be done," she said.

With the tool, Dwyer said, she no longer has to send children and their families to Baltimore for enhanced examinations. "Now I can just send the pictures," she said.

Dwyer said the detail that can be achieved with the MedScope system is amazing. With internal sexual abuse examinations, the fiber-optic camera can distinguish between normal folds of tissue and abnormal tearing of tissue, she said.

"There is actually a drop in child abuse nationwide and we believe it's a real decline," Dwyer said. "There has been improvement in breaking the cycle of abuse and also in increased prosecution of abusers."

Dwyer said that in her experience, most abuse occurs within the family, but there are cases of abuse by others.

Clinics at the center are held about three times a month and there usually are three or four children at each session.

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