"It certainly helps the victims obtain justice;" Centra expands forensic nursing to Gretna

PITTSYLVANIA COUNTY, Va. (WBJ7)-- April Rasumussen describes her job as, “difficult, but rewarding.”

Starting July 22nd, there will be two full time forensic nurses at Centra's Gretna Medical Center.

“You see patients at their most vulnerable, when they are the most upset, when crimes that they had no control over that have completely changed their lives,” said Rasmussen, the Coordinator for Centra’s Forensic Health program.

If you are ever a victim of a violent crime in Central or Southside, Va., there is a good chance that you will meet Rasumussen. Her department is responsible for being on the front line and comforting victims, while also documenting their story, their injuries and keeping track of all evidence.

Victims of sexual assault, domestic violence, elder abuse, malicious wounding, child assault, pedestrian vs. car crashes, strangulation cases and all pediatric deaths can receive services from a forensic nurse.

Rasmussen, and the 11 nurses in her department at Lynchburg General Hospital, are then asked to testify on the witnesses’ behalf in court as an expert. They see more than 800 patients per year. The nurses are subpoenaed about 350 times per year.

It is a service that Rasmussen said benefits the community, but Centra currently offers the service just out of Lynchburg. The second highest volume of their patients come from their Pittsylvania County facility, nearly 25 percent of all cases, but the patients have to go to Lynchburg to see forensic nurses.

If a patient is a victim of a sexual assault, Centra will provide transportation from their Gretna facility to their Lynchburg facility for examination. If not, the patient has to find their own way.

“Currently unless you are a victim of sexual assault, you don’t get to receive the forensic services unless you drive to Lynchburg to obtain them,” said Rasmussen.

Based on the high volume seen out of Southside, Centra is expanding their forensic health services to their Gretna facility on July 22nd. The medical center will be staffed with two full-time forensic nurses and there will always be a forensic nurse on-call for any emergencies.

“It’s really about providing services where people need them,” said Winifred Agard, Medical Director for the Forensic Health program. “If we are in that community, it’s the right thing to do to have those services for them.”

Centra worked alongside law enforcement in Halifax, Pittsylvania and Danville to identify the need. Bryan Haskins is the Commonwealth’s Attorney for Pittsylvania County. He said the evidence that forensic nurses provide can be instrumental in solving cases.

"The whole goal of a trial is to find the truth. Forensic nurses help us find that truth. They document the evidence that says an assault did or did not happen,” said Haskins. "It certainly helps the victims obtain justice."