Partnerships in Washington, Sullivan counties expand critical services for sexual assault patients
Regional leaders in healthcare, victims’ advocacy and justice have come together to strengthen standards of care and treatment for sexual assault survivors.
Key among the advancements is an endeavor by Ballad Health, in partnership with The Branch House Family Justice Center, to bolster services available to sexual assault patients who are admitted to area emergency rooms, connecting them to long-term support that will extend beyond their stay at the hospital. The extension includes the addition of a specialized room at Johnson City Medical Center that is operated by Branch House and provides a safe and comforting space for sexual assault patients after they are medically cleared by emergency room clinicians.
“For a patient who has just experienced sexual trauma, a clinical setting might not be the warmest or most welcome environment, especially if they’re confused and processing a major trauma,” said Morgan May, chief nursing officer for Ballad Health’s Southern Region, which includes Washington County. “While there are medical needs that need to be addressed for these patients, it shouldn’t come at the cost of their comfort. This collaborative effort will go a long way to ensure every patient gets the help they need; from the moment they enter the emergency room and after they leave.
“We’re humbled and grateful to offer this service, and we’re hopeful it benefits every person who needs it.”
Furthermore, both the Washington County and Sullivan County district attorney offices and the city of Johnson City will continue to collaborate with Branch House and Ballad Health via monthly meetings that will serve to ensure sexual assault patients are receiving timely and appropriate care.
According to the Tennessee Department of Health, Sullivan County reported the second-highest rate of reported sexual assault per capita in the state between 2016 and 2020, and the highest in the northeast region of the state, with Washington County reporting the second-highest rate of sexual assault in the region.
“We owe it to our community and victims of sexual assault to ensure they have access to every resource they need, whether it’s medical care or legal counsel,” said Steve Finney, District Attorney for the First Judicial District in Tennessee. “That’s why it’s imperative for local organizations to work together to ensure that every survivor gets the help, care and compassion they need and deserve.”
Ballad Health’s enhanced partnership with Branch House also ensures advocates are available to the patient as soon as possible to walk them through any needs that extend beyond what can be provided by emergency room clinicians. The health system will help fund an additional full-time employee for the center, enabling Branch House to commit to 24/7 on-call coverage for sexual assault exams in Washington and Sullivan counties, which will cover Johnson City Medical Center, Holston Valley Medical Center, Bristol Regional Medical Center, Franklin Woods Community Hospital and Indian Path Community Hospital. Sexual assault patients who present to those facilities’ emergency departments for treatment can be immediately connected with the Branch House upon their release from the hospital for further services and care.
“What this partnership allows us to do is seamlessly transition a sexual assault patient from the emergency room setting to the many critical services provided by Branch House, including exams performed by a trained and certified Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner,” said Seth Brown, MD, an emergency room physician who serves as the medical director of the Ballad Health SANE program and a chief medical officer in Washington County. “Someone who has experienced sexual trauma needs a stable and safe environment due to the physical and emotional pain these events can cause, and we’re glad this partnership will enable us to provide that.”
The Branch House Family Justice Center opened in 2018 to provide free, long-term services and support for survivors of sexual and domestic abuse. The Sullivan County-based organization provides on-site services including counseling, civil legal assistance, short and long-term housing and sexual assault forensic examination.
“Our goal as an organization is to provide survivors with any resource they might need, and our partnerships allow us to do just that,” said Lenee Hendrix, executive director of Branch House. “The addition of a specially tailored room at Johnson City Medical Center and a new full-time employee will significantly enhance our ability to offer comprehensive services to survivors. These partnerships are a testament to the power of collaboration and underscores our unwavering commitment to create a safe and compassionate environment for survivors as they begin their journey towards healing and empowerment.”