For the forensic nursing team at Frederick Memorial Hospital, 2018 was a year of new. They moved into a new, three-room suite, hired new staff and created a new position thanks to a grant.

Meaghan Tarquinio was recently hired as the new forensic services patient navigator. She started on Nov. 26. Tarquinio’s role came from a grant from the governor’s office, and she helps coordinate community support, crisis intervention and safety planning for patients who come to the forensic nursing suite.

She also coordinates with multidisciplinary agencies, including law enforcement and domestic violence services, such as Heartly House, to help patients get help beyond the hospital walls. It means more follow-up after the patient leaves, which helps with a patient’s safety and health, especially with strangulation patients, she said.

For the patients, Tarquinio’s role is one of support. She can also answer questions and help patients navigate the system, both physically and emotionally.

“When somebody experiences trauma, their brain is usually still in that fight, flight or freeze mode when they come in here,” she said. “And there’s so much information that is thrown at them … there’s so much to remember and so much to absorb and so much to navigate. And they’re not in a place where they can really do that on their own.”

The forensic nursing team performs examinations on alleged victims of sexual assault, child abuse and domestic violence in order to collect evidence to help with potential investigations. They also work to help victims gain access to community resources. The forensic nurses have known for a while that the complexities of the available resources could be overwhelming, said Pam Holtzinger, forensic nurse program coordinator. They would make referrals, but it fell on the person to follow through or overcome any barriers.

With Tarquinio on the team, Holtzinger said they can now give patients a safe place to come back. And they are already seeing improvement in patients seeking and responding to services.

Tarquinio comes to FMH after working for Heartly House. Her experience there taught her a lot, she said, and it also helps her better explain what Heartly House is and the services they provide, since people often think it is just a shelter.

Connecting patients with Heartly House is just one of the tasks that Tarquinio is now doing as part of the forensic nursing team. She might find a new doctor for a patient, she said, as some patients want a new physician but do not want to have to go into detail about the trauma they experienced. Other times, she might be on the phone with the detention center to find out if an alleged abuser is still in jail.

“There’s just an enormous spectrum of needs for somebody who has been sexually assaulted or experienced domestic violence,” Tarquinio said.

Holtzinger said she writes grants throughout the year for equipment, staff and other needs. She saw the grant as an innovative way to fill the void they had without Tarquinio. Although Tarquinio has been there for only a month, she has already been busy.

Since she comes from a different background, she is able to evaluate what the forensic nursing team is doing and suggest ways they can adjust. Both she and Holtzinger are looking forward to going into 2019 with a full staff and new ideas for continuing to improve the services they might provide.

Tarquinio said her goals for 2019 include getting more patients to come back for more services, more safety planning, involving more community resources and more help for families who often accompany the patient.

She would like to see more education in Frederick County, and while cultural attitudes toward domestic violence have started to shift, she would like to see a community where people can identify the signs of an abusive relationship.

They are already seeing results, Tarquinio said. They are seeing better conversations between the team and patients and the patients and law enforcement. That’s due in part to the suite they moved into in the fall.

The three-room suite got its new windows this month. The digital window portrays scenes such as waves on the beach or palm trees. It is meant to be calming, Holtzinger said. But just having a quiet space has been helpful. It allows the patients to shower after going through an examination. It lets them sit on a couch or chair when talking to law enforcement instead of on a stretcher.

There are also added safety measures, which help the patients feel better about coming to the suite.

“Right now, we are in the best place that we’ve have ever been,” Holtzinger said. “We have every reason to be extremely successful.”

Follow Heather Mongilio on Twitter: @HMongilio.

Heather Mongilio is the health and Fort Detrick reporter for the Frederick News-Post. She can be reached at hmongilio@newspost.com.

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