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Forensic Nurses on the Front Lines of Combatting Abuse

Bonnie Price oversees one of the busiest and largest forensic nursing programs in the country. As administrative director of community health advocacy at Bon Secours Richmond Health System, she currently works with fourteen people on her team: eleven nurses and three patient-care technicians.

“Forensic nursing in Virginia is sadly underrepresented,” says Price, who helped start the program twenty-five years ago. “Currently there are only thirteen to fourteen programs in the state. There is difficult access to forensic care across the state. We have had people travel two to three hours to come to us because they can’t find a forensic nurse in their locale, and we are talking about big places such as parts of Northern Virginia as well as rural areas.”

Bonnie Price is the administrative director of community health advocacy at Bon Secours Richmond Health System.

Forensic nursing is where law enforcement and health care intersect. Registered nurses with specialized training provide compassionate care to victims of violence, sexual assault and abuse, including domestic abuse, child abuse, and elder abuse. They provide services to suspects in a crime as well.

“Over the last three to four years, we have taken care of patients who reported being strangled or are victims of human trafficking,” Price says, noting in 2014 strangulation became a felony in Virginia. “People who are strangled are 800 times more likely to be a victim of homicide.”

Since December 2015, the program has provided care for 123 patients of human trafficking, both children and adults. “Of those 123 probably, over 90 percent are people from this country,” Price says, dispelling the notion that most victims are from other countries.

The Bon Secours program has established several community partnerships that include the offices of Commonwealth Attorneys and the Regional Hospital Accompaniment Response Team (RHART). The advocacy program is made up of representatives from Bon Secours, Hanover Safe Place, Safe Harbor, and the YWCA. The trained volunteer advocates provide emotional support and counseling during the hospital visit as well as referrals.

Toni M. Randall, deputy commonwealth’s attorney for Henrico, handles sexual assault cases and often works with Price. The forensic nursing team is important to her in terms “of the cases I handle,” she says. “I think the nurses who work at St. Mary’s give the highest quality care to the patients they see. Bonnie and her nurses are educated in current trends and current quality of care required for forensic nurses. They provide important corroborating evidence for victims of sexual assault which is important in trying cases.”

The forensic program continues to grow every year. From 2013 to 2017, the number of patient consultations increased 83 percent. “There are times when it feels like we are at maximum capacity,” Price says. “We don’t turn anybody away. It doesn’t matter how busy we are, we will find a way to see them.”

The Bon Secours program is one of only a few across Virginia that is staffed twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. It serves patients of all ages in about twenty-six different cities, counties and towns. “Most of the cases we get are from Henrico, Richmond, Chesterfield, and Hanover,” says Price who received the forensic nursing profession’s highest honor, The Virginia A. Lynch Pioneer Award in Forensic Nursing, in 2014.

Because of its continuing growth, the program has outgrown its space in the north medical office building at Bon Secours St. Mary’s. It will move to the south building and double its square footage. “We will have two exam rooms and two waiting rooms. We only have one now,” Price says.

The Wine Women & Shoes Fundraiser is one of the largest fundraisers for the program. Some of the funds raised this year will go “to our expansion project,” Price says.

One of the biggest challenges in forensic nursing today is finding nurses that want to enter the specialty. The turnover rate can be very high. “The work can be toxic,” says Price, because of what “you see, hear, and are involved with and the fact that you are isolated. You can’t tell anyone. You have to carry it all with you. We try hard as a team to keep an eye on each other.”

But, the work can be gratifying as well. “For us our satisfaction is seeing the patients receive the care they deserve and knowing that their needs are met,” Price says.

Wine Women & Shoes

Wine Women & Shoes returns to Richmond for its sixtg year on Sunday, Oct. 27, at the Hilton Richmond Hotel & Spa/Short Pump from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. for an afternoon of shopping and wine tasting – all for a good cause.

The event is hosted by Bon Secours Richmond Health Care Foundation and proceeds will benefit Bon Secours Forensic Nursing. Participants can sip fine wines, shop the latest styles of shoes and accessories, bid on deluxe auction items, and mingle with the Shoe Guys.

Wine partners include New Age, Tropical Moscato, Quintessential and Conundrum. Marketplace partners include Saxon Shoes, Sassy Bee, India Hicks, Kendra Scott, LuLaRoe and many more. General admission ticket, $100, includes appetizers, wine tastings, seating for program and live auction, swag bag. VIP tickets and table tickets available. For more information and to purchase tickets, visit Wine, Women, and Shoes.

An award-winning writer based in Richmond, Joan Tupponce is a parent, grandparent, and self-admitted Disney freak. She writes about anything and everything and enjoys meeting inspiring people and telling their stories. Joan’s work has appeared in RFM since the magazine’s first issue in October 2009. Look for original and exclusive online articles about Richmond-area people, places, and ideas at Just Joan: RVA Storyteller.

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