Bright pinwheels mark grim statistic on rising reports of child abuse

April 08, 2013|By CALEB CALHOUN |
  • Dena Green, manager of labor and delivery at Meritus Medical Center, signs a banner amidst pinwheels placed outside the hospital Monday in observance of Child Abuse Prevention and Sexual Assault Awareness Month.
By Ric Dugan/Staff Photographer

HAGERSTOWN — Staff at Meritus Medical Center on Monday placed nearly 1,600 pinwheels outside the hospital’s main entrance, each one representing a reported case of child abuse in Washington County last year.

The event was held in observance of Child Abuse Prevention and Sexual Assault Awareness Month.

“It’d be so great to see us in the 22nd century look back on the 21st century and say we eliminated sexual and child abuse,” said Jesus Cepero, vice president and chief nursing officer of Meritus Health. “This is our goal.”

Washington County Commissioners Jeff Cline and Ruth Anne Callaham read two proclamations issued by the board of county commissioners to raise awareness to child and sexual abuse in the area. Afterward, they signed a banner that tells of “A Promise for Prevention.”

Callaham said one of the proclamations to raise awareness to sexual abuse declares that the community should “work as one” to educate people about the issue.

“We can try to fix the problem after it happens, but it’s really more effective if we address the issue of sexual awareness and sexual abuse ahead of time before someone gets hurt or emotionally scarred for life,” she said. “The center of hope for our community is advocating to stop these horrendous practices of abuse.”

Cline said the other proclamation was designed to raise awareness to the issue of child abuse and said that “continued awareness” can make a difference.

“It’s important to be more aware of child abuse and be able to combat it and provide solutions,” he said.

Pamela Holtzinger, coordinator for the Forensic Nurse Program at Meritus, said Meritus Health, like other health providers, is mandated to report cases of child abuse, but that the goal is to reach children “before they hit the emergency department.”

“As a forensic nurse my job is to assess and help evaluate child maltreatment patients, but what we’re trying to do is to get the larger community” involved in the issue, she said. “It really does take a village to raise children, so we want everyone to be involved and to be able to make a difference.”

In 2011, there were 900 cases of child abuse reported. Holtzinger said the increase to 1,600 in 2012 means more people are reporting child abuse, not that the number of victims is increasing.

She also said that people only need a suspicion to report abuse.

“They can go ahead and make the call, and let the professionals evaluate it and help prevent any further abuse from happening,” she said.

Cepero said Meritus Health provides annual training and education to all of its staff to be able to recognize and intervene in issues of child and sexual abuse.

“Having to deal with the victim and having to deal with the perpetrator of child and sexual abuse can be both physically and mentally draining, but we have to because we want to prevent these incidents from reoccurring in the future,” he said. “I’ve seen children die from injuries, I’ve seen women and men that have gone through sexual abuse be completely changed for the rest of their lives.”

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