HAGERSTOWN — Victims of domestic violence often go to hospital emergency rooms claiming their injuries were a result of accidents rather than abuse.
Training medical professionals to tell the difference and uncover the truth is one goal of a new hospital-based domestic violence screening program announced Monday by Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown.
Brown announced a $50,000 grant for the program during a press conference at Robinwood Professional Center off Robinwood Drive east of Hagerstown.
The state funding is through the Governor’s Office of Crime Control and Prevention and the Maryland Community Health Resources Commission. CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield is contributing another $16,000 to the program.
“Domestic violence is not just a public safety issue; it’s a public health issue,” said Brown, whose family has been affected by the problem.
In 2008, his cousin, Catherine Brown, was fatally shot by an ex-boyfriend, who was in turn shot and killed by police in Montgomery County, Md., he said.
Some statistics for domestic violence are headed in the right direction, Brown said, with the number of domestic violence deaths in Maryland declining by 41 percent since 2009. The lieutenant governor noted, however, that the number of domestic violence calls in Hagerstown was about 1,500 in 2011, an increase of about 12.5 percent.
“I think you can, more than anything, attribute that to the economy,” Hagerstown Police Chief Arthur Smith said. “The number-one cause of arguments in these situations is money.”
Financial stresses can lead to more alcohol abuse and mental-health issues that can lead to domestic violence, Smith said.
“We believe this is going to go a long way in protecting the victims ... and really reducing the cost of providing health care” by breaking the cycle of violence for them and reducing the number of hospital visits, Brown said.
The grant is for the sixth hospital-based domestic violence program in the state, said William J. Toohey, the communications director for the Governor’s Office of Crime Control and Prevention. The first was initiated by Northwest Hospital in Baltimore and became a model for others, he said.
In addition to emergency room personnel being trained to elicit information from victims about domestic abuse, they will also receive training in identifying and preserving possible forensic evidence, such as might be found on clothing, he said.
“These two grants ... will be used to train emergency department and other personnel on the nuances and subtleties of domestic violence and how to do a thorough investigation,” Meritus President and CEO Joseph P. Ross said. It can help put victims “on a pathway where we can hopefully stop the abuse.”
The program will help hospital personnel assess domestic violence cases, offer information to victims and refer them to services, said Vicki Sadehvandi, executive director of Citizens Assisting and Sheltering the Abused.