Thrive by IU Health

Hard Evidence: Methodist Forensic Nurse Nicolette Baer

Hard Evidence: Methodist Forensic Nurse Nicolette Baer

Nicolette Baer was sobbing, standing inside her Indianapolis home when her husband walked in.

He took one look at his wife and knew: “They got him, didn’t they?” he asked.

These tears Baer was crying were tears of relief -- tears born from sleepless nights and horrific pictures playing over and over in her head.

Baer had been there when the elderly woman came in to IU Health Methodist Hospital’s emergency department. The woman had just been brutally raped by a stranger Downtown.

The woman, Baer says “had some of the most horrific injuries” she had ever seen, injuries in places that were unthinkable.

That traumatized woman didn’t know who had done this to her. Some stranger. Baer collected DNA, spent hours with the woman, soothing her, talking with her, giving her options to press charges.

She collected her clothes – now criminal evidence -- and took down word for word the woman’s story.

That DNA ended up matching a man in a nationwide database. When it came time, Baer took the stand in court and testified on everything she had found, everything she had heard.

And then, the phone call came from the prosecutor, followed by the tears. Guilty. The monster who had committed the vicious crime was guilty.

“This case was just awful,” says Baer, who has been a forensic nurse at Methodist since 2010. “The pictures said a thousand words.”

When the guilty pleas come in, that’s the most rewarding part for Baer. When she gets to see someone pay for the evil they’ve done.

“You feel like you are doing a service, which is beautiful,” says Baer. “And I love this population. I love these people. Every one of them.”

***

She’s sitting in the ER when her pager goes off. This could be a case for forensics. Baer reads the message. A patient is on his way to the hospital with “lacerations from a table saw.”

“So, I don’t need to go see him,” says Baer, a married mother of two. This injury was an accident. If someone else had taken the table saw to the man, he would be Baer’s.

A forensic nurse is a fascinating job. It’s part criminal investigator, part medical caregiver. Nurses are certified and trained to work in the field of forensics.

“People look at us as law enforcement,” Baer says. “But we say, ‘No. We’re medical,’ even though we collect evidence and get grilled on the stand.’”

At Methodist, the forensic nurses are based in the ER. They are part of the hospital’s Center of Hope, supporting any victim of violence who may come in, whether it be a sexual assault, domestic violence, gun shot wounds or stabbings.

In the month of July alone, Methodist’s Center of Hope saw 108 people -- 17 sexual assaults (six of those were patients ages 14 to 17); 43 physical assaults; 22 domestic violence; and 15 gunshot wounds, as well as 11 under other categories of violence.

“Too many,” Baer says. “Too many.”

Lucky for those patients, they have a nurse like Baer waiting on them, ready to do anything she can to help makes things a little easier.

***

Take a rape victim. They might come in on their own, or be brought in by a detective. They may be brought by ambulance.

After a medical screening exam by a physician, to make sure they don’t need surgery or any immediate medical care, Baer will take them into the forensic room. She treats them for sexually-transmitted disease and other medical issues. She starts collecting evidence.

“Everything is based on the story they tell us,” says Baer, who is working now for a master’s degree to be a nurse practitioner. “And we collect evidence based on that story.”

Baer will take photos and write down their story. Every word. She might bag up clothes. She swabs areas for DNA. She has a “refrigerator full of bullets.”

“The operating room will call us and say, ‘We have a bullet,’” Baer says. “So, we need to secure that bullet because it is from a crime scene and it is evidence. We log it and lock it in the refrigerator until the detectives come and get it.”

Beyond the physical collection part of her job, there is the emotional side. Not every victim of violence is open to Baer. She must get consent to take photos, do exams and collect evidence.

It’s a tricky place to be, talking to victims of violence. Often, they are angry and scared. Often, they are ashamed and embarrassed.

“Male domestic violence victims can be very reluctant to say anything or press charges and it’s embarrassing for them,” she says. “Just the stigma.”

That happens with women, too.

Baer will never forget the young woman who was badly beaten up. She came into the ER with her husband, who insisted she had fallen. She agreed with him: Yes she had fallen.

“It was very obvious she didn’t fall. And the way I approached her, she couldn’t deny it,” Baer says. “We had a beautiful rapport and it just sickened me for days the way it all ended.”

It sickened Baer that the woman decided to go back with her husband.

“I literally had to take her and give her to her abusive husband,” Baer says. “I could not even look at him.”

It’s not Baer’s job, though, to encourage or advocate for her patients to press charges. It’s her job to give them their options. She explains what happens with a protective order, what happens if the officer comes, what happens if they decide to press charges.

“I don’t want to try to force them to do something,” she says. “But safety is a huge goal for us. We have to make sure they are safe when they leave here.”

***

Baer was 3 years old when her dad died of a heart attack a week before Christmas. He was 41, watching her 16-year-old brother’s basketball game, when he got a pain that shot up his arm.

He was rushed to the hospital, but he couldn’t be saved.

“So, I grew up thinking, ‘I’ve got to help people, because they couldn’t help my dad,’” Baer says. “I wanted to be one of those people that could save my dad.”

Baer never wavered in her career goals of becoming a nurse, not in elementary school or middle school or high school. As a teenager, she didn’t work fast food or retail or babysitting. At Roncalli High School, she worked in a nursing home.

As soon as she turned 18, she landed a job in the emergency department of an Indianapolis hospital. As she worked, she went to school to become a nurse.

After graduating with her RN degree from Marian University, Baer started at Methodist in the ER. Her entire 20-year career at Methodist has been in ER or trauma. It’s been one that gave her plenty of variety. For five years, she traveled with the IndyCar racing league. She was a flight nurse for a while. She’s never had any desire to work in any other department.

“It’s exciting. It’s fun and it’s always different,” Baer says. “And I’m comfortable with it. I’m comfortable with death. I’m comfortable with talking with families about tough stuff.”

And, now as a forensic nurse, she’s comfortable talking to patients who have just been through the darkest and worst moments of their lives.

In the aftermath of the violence and trauma, Baer is exactly the nurse patients need. She’s strong willed and no nonsense with the softest heart you’ll find.

“I’m one of those ‘nursy’ nurses that are kissy-huggy,” she says. “And I like to spend hours with them. That is the beauty of this job. You get to know them. You hear their stories. And you help them. You really hope you help them.”

-- By Dana Benbow, Senior Journalist at IU Health.

Reach Benbow via email dbenbow@iuhealth.org or on Twitter @danabenbow.

Latest Stories

Filter from

April 14, 2021 Diabetes prevention program helped patient break the cycle She tried and she tried but she couldn’t seem to get in shape. When Cheryl Peglow learn... April 13, 2021 Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine paused - Your questions answered On Tuesday, April 13, the Indiana Department of Health asked all state vaccine administ... April 13, 2021 COVID delayed mammograms: doctors say, ‘Get back on track’ Many things were put on hold when pandemic turned to panic. Now, doctors remind patient... April 12, 2021 Clinical medicine and research makes this transplant patient among the first IU Health has a long history as one of the top transplant programs in the country. Now,... April 07, 2021 Husband donates kidney to wife: ‘This is a highlight. It’s worth it’ April is National Donate Life Month and today is Living Donor Day – a time to celebrate... April 07, 2021 On a terrible day, Center gives victims hope Nicole Perkins meets people on the worst days of their lives. As a forensic nurse exami... April 07, 2021 Philanthropy could help fund more Centers of Hope Providing emergency services for victims of sexual assault, domestic violence, child ab... April 07, 2021 10 Myths about Sexual Assault April is Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month. To help Hoosiers learn more abo... April 06, 2021 A true giver at heart Saving lives—that’s the main concern for the IU Health Bloomington Hospital Emergency... April 05, 2021 Doctor flies for a cause that has paws His career is in medicine, but this doctor extends his caring spirit outside the hospit... April 04, 2021 Sepsis invaded nurse’s body, but not her determination It started with a persistent cough. In no time at all, Alixandra “Alix” Gerringer was a... April 02, 2021 Fighting as a community In just over 100 days, the IU Health South Central Region has given out over 60,000 COV... April 01, 2021 A success story thanks to support from the team Katelyn Cole believes her success is from the team that supported her. “My life was r... March 31, 2021 Q1 2021 Quarterly Report: The year that changed the way we give. Crystal Hinson Miller, chief philanthropy officer for Indiana University Health and pre... March 31, 2021 The next new shot: Help for patients diagnosed with HIV For years, people diagnosed with HIV have taken a steady regiment of oral medication. N... March 29, 2021 Never Too Young - Here’s how this 22-year-old is Fighting Stage 4 Colon Cancer By IU Health Senior Journalist, T.J. Banes, tfender1@iuhealth.org She’s 22. She was 21... March 28, 2021 Rare Disease Treated at IU Health; Can Take Years to Diagnose By IU Health Senior Journalist T.J. Banes, tfender1@iuhealth.org At first, there were ... March 24, 2021 Diagnosis: Hodgkin’s lymphoma - She spent her birthday in the hospital At first she thought she had allergies, and then Christine Kirk heard the word, “cancer... March 22, 2021 Patient moved to Indy for treatment of multiple myeloma By the time she got her diagnosis and became a patient of IU Health, Irene Johnson was ... March 21, 2021 Memorial & meditation: Doctor says ‘It is from the intensity of the loss we felt’ Deep sadness, feelings of helplessness, and overwhelming anxiety of what’s to come - me... March 18, 2021 Social worker, nurse – Dynamic duo in critical care They are a team, and when it comes to caring for the sickest patients, these two go abo... March 18, 2021 Grant expands IU Health virtual behavioral health services to rural counties A highly regarded IU Health virtual behavioral health program has received $1.2 million... March 17, 2021 Putting faith into practice to reach patients in isolation “A big part of getting well happens outside the doors of IU Health.” Shadreck Kamwend... March 17, 2021 Teens in Orange County high schools to benefit from counseling The timing couldn’t have been worse: Even as Indiana high school students report high ... March 16, 2021 Don’t Let Spring Forward Leave You Behind: 6 Tips for Healthy Sleep While most of us are ready for warmer weather and longer days, ‘losing’ that extra hour... March 15, 2021 About women’s health: Nurse’s career spans more than four decades in OB/GYN She’s been part of a team that delivered twins, triplets, quadruplets, and quintuplets;... March 14, 2021 Eight people form a kidney ‘chain;’ Four people receive the gift of life It’s like a tiny sapling that grows into a tree. One person plants the seed and the oth... March 11, 2021 Testicular cancer patient travels from Chile to Indianapolis for world-class care Pedro Cordua lives in Chile and has been battling testicular cancer for two years. He c... March 10, 2021 Johnson & Johnson Vaccine: Your Questions Answered Now that clinicians have begun to administer the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine in ... March 04, 2021 Screening Mammography & COVID-19 Vaccine: What to Know Screening mammograms and COVID-19 vaccines are both very important for your health. Som... March 03, 2021 "Angels ... Wear Red": Letter of Appreciation Thanks Nurse at IU Health Arnett Hospital How do you ever say thank you to the one that saved your life? Pastor Jim Higdon wrote ... March 03, 2021 IU Health announces applications for Community Impact Investment Fund IU Health is pleased to announce the next round of applications for funding from the Co... February 26, 2021 Why heart health is important when recovering from COVID-19 Originally printed in the Indianapolis Business Journal on February 5, 2021Keeping Hoos... February 26, 2021 IU Health introduces online price estimate tool Before you schedule medical care, your out-of-pocket costs may be top of mind. Can I af... February 25, 2021 Welcome to the world, baby Henry! The IUHP Midwifery practice welcomed its 100th baby on Valentine’s Day. His birth didn’... February 19, 2021 Hospice nurse: ‘I hold their hand and let them know they are loved’ She’s sat at the bedside of countless patients. In their final moments, they are often ... February 18, 2021 Infusion helps patients in early stages of COVID-19 As the Coronavirus continues to impact Indiana residents IU Health offers a treatment t... February 17, 2021 Heart disease and women: The reality. The symptoms. Now hear this! One out of four women, a truly frightening and staggering statistic, wil... February 17, 2021 Cardiac Rehab: ‘Giving Life Back to Patients’ When someone has a heart attack, we often hear about the role of quick intervention in ... February 16, 2021 A Program With Heart: Serving Adults With Congenital Heart Disease For most people, the phrase “congenital heart disease” likely brings to mind babies and... February 15, 2021 Telehealth enables patients to receive care in their community During this pandemic, we have all learned the value of technology in being able to work... February 15, 2021 The HALO® BassiNest® swivel sleeper introduces a new level of care for newborns at Arnett For the Mother Baby unit at Indiana University Health Arnett Hospital, the number one g... February 15, 2021 Patient receives stem cells from daughter He’s smiling. Douglas Haywood is glad to have company and he’s glad to be celebrating h... February 14, 2021 Husband donates liver to wife: ‘There was never any question I’d do it’ There were seizures, there was jaundice. As Heather Buchanan’s health declined, it was ... February 12, 2021 Heartbeats keep loved ones close when family members’ hearts ache Music therapy is part of the IU Health’s CompleteLife Program, attending to the mind, b... February 10, 2021 Firefighter felt like death was in the room Jim Redd is not one to give up easily, but even this previously healthy guy was no matc... February 08, 2021 How to Get Started Exercising at Home For a year, we've spent more time at home than ever. Although gyms and fitness cen... February 08, 2021 How to Stay Active & Healthy During Cold Winter Even in the best of winters, many of us take a cue from grizzly bears and spend the who... February 05, 2021 Transplant patient from the Middle East: ‘Here the doctors are confident, courageous’ He traveled more than 7,000 miles, about 20 hours by plane, and spent 10 months in Indi... February 04, 2021 Cardiovascular Institute Unites Patient Care and Research Cardiovascular disease is the No. 1 cause of death in Indiana and around the world, but... February 03, 2021 Cardiovascular Patient Has a Heart for Giving Back Ron Fredrick didn’t think he was going to die. Others weren’t so optimistic. In 2018, t... February 03, 2021 Irsay Gift Expands Successful Addiction Program A $1 million boost from Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay is allowing a proven addicti... February 01, 2021 Married 46 years, they call themselves ‘the cancer couple’ They met when they were students at Indiana University, married, and enjoyed a life tra... January 29, 2021 Trauma, military service, and travel – Art therapist brings a mix of experiences She’s worked with people who experienced trauma, and she’s served with the military sta... January 27, 2021 Two-time kidney recipient: One from his wife, another from his friend National media outlets hovered like bees at a honey pot when they learned the love stor... January 26, 2021 Foundation Grants $603,279 to Benefit Patients, Team Members Systemwide IU Health hospitals across the state have received more than $600,000 in grants from IU... January 26, 2021 Tens of thousands of COVID vaccinations: Two people behind the scenes at one clinic They work tirelessly, coordinating the sites that administer the life-saving vaccine. H... January 22, 2021 Local Business Owner Gives to Racial Equity in Healthcare Fund If you’ve seen The Wire or Homicide: Life on the Streets, you might think you know what... January 22, 2021 Great Care: The Universal Language Imagine being ill or injured, and not being able to understand the doctors and nurses w... January 22, 2021 Mullins Supplies Much of What IU Health Needs Dennis Mullins’ career has been geared toward a year like 2020. His military logistics ... January 22, 2021 Rev Donors Support the “Trauma of Social Injustice” When IU Health Foundation realized it had to cancel its 2020 Rev Indy event due to the ... January 19, 2021 Great grandma, 85, rolls up her sleeve: ‘I want to see my Family’ She’s not accustomed to sitting still and slowing down. Yet, like many, a pandemic buil... January 18, 2021 What to Expect After COVID-19 Vaccine As the COVID-19 vaccine rollout has expanded to more Hoosiers in recent days, you may b... January 15, 2021 IU Health Arnett announces leadership promotions Christopher Mansfield, MD has been promoted to Associate Chief Medical Officer (ACMO) f... January 08, 2021 Chief Nursing Officer receives DNP Marilyn Riley, vice president and chief nursing officer at IU Health Frankfort, recentl... January 08, 2021 IU Health Arnett Hospital announces retirement of President Daniel Neufelder, FACHE, president of Indiana University Health Arnett and the West Cen... January 05, 2021 Tips for Isolation, Anxiety, and Seasonal Depression During COVID-19 For most of us, this winter is unlike anything we’ve ever experienced before. Not only ... December 20, 2020 She’s a respiratory therapist with asthma, and she’s on the front lines Jody White didn’t have to treat COVID-positive patients at Methodist Hospital, but opti... December 18, 2020 Physicians implore their communities to take COVID vaccine when it's time IU Health infectious disease physicians from around the state feel confident in taking ... December 17, 2020 IU Health begins COVID-19 vaccines: 'Light at the end of a very long tunnel' IU Health took possession of the first COVID-19 vaccines in central Indiana on Wednesda... December 17, 2020 Coping with Grief and Loss This Holiday Season The holiday season is often a time of year in which a wide range of emotions can arise.... December 17, 2020 Behavioral health numbers up; Fighting holiday stress during a pandemic The past year has been filled with anxiety, disappointment, and heartache. Never has it... December 16, 2020 Veteran nurse: ‘I can’t tell you how hard it is to see that lonely patient in bed’ For more than two decades she’s sat at the bedside of her patients. Now, IU Health Nurs... December 15, 2020 ‘Baskets of Cheer’ boost front-line teams During a stressful day, a quick cup of coffee or snack can make a big difference, espec... December 15, 2020 New program allows patients to heal at home In April, when the impact of the pandemic began to hit home, IU Health had an idea to h... December 15, 2020 COVID-19 vaccine: Freezers ready to store; Staff ready to administer first doses It’s been a long time coming but now, a new vaccine is making its debut in the fight ag... December 14, 2020 Steps to Eating Healthy at Home It may be an understatement to say that the year 2020 has been quite the whirlwind. The... December 13, 2020 First patient who received COVID-fighting infusion: ‘Hardest part was the needle’ When she signed up to receive a new monoclonal antibody to help ward off her symptoms o... December 12, 2020 Wigs can help cancer patients feel sense of control When you combed or brushed your hair this morning, you likely didn’t think much about h... December 11, 2020 Watch: IU Health experts answer COVID-19 vaccine questions With COVID-19 vaccine approval just around the corner, IU Health experts address a numb... December 10, 2020 Generational Trauma: Breaking the Cycle of Adverse Childhood Experiences How Our Understanding of ACEs Provides Better Healing Care for Adults “The child is th... December 10, 2020 First a Riley patient; Now at 25, athlete is a patient at IU Health Simon Cancer Center At the age of three he became a patient at Riley Hospital for Children at IU Health. No... December 09, 2020 COVID-19 Vaccine: What You Need to Know With COVID-19 cases on the rise in Indiana and across the country, a ray of hope exists... December 09, 2020 IU Health vascular team’s phone app focuses on blood clots and COVID patients As health care providers piece together the impact of the deadly coronavirus, a team of... December 08, 2020 Indiana University Health Arnett welcomes new Chief Nursing Officer, Allison Shuttz, MSN, RN, NE-BC Allison Shuttz, MSN, RN, NE-BC, has been appointed Chief Nursing Officer for Indiana Un... December 08, 2020 For two years, this young mom could not speak Her 2-year-old was just a baby when Maranda Slusser stopped talking. Two more children ... December 04, 2020 Tranquility Spaces Provide a Respite For Frontline Team Members Sometimes even heroes need a break … a chance to slow down, take a breath, gather their... December 03, 2020 Hospital chaplain: From bedside compassion to hospitalized care She’s sat at the bedside of new moms and patients undergoing radiation therapy. She’s a... December 02, 2020 “I thank God I’ve come through it” As a COVID-19 “long hauler,” Sarah Hagan found help through IU Health’s Convalescing CO... December 02, 2020 She cares for patients with COVID and carries on her mother’s legacy Her mother worked for IU Health, and for two decades this nurse has followed in her foo... November 30, 2020 Calling a Code Lavender If you’ve watched a hospital-based television show, you’ve probably seen the following ... November 30, 2020 Hospital workers – Giving hearts on holidays and every day They work tirelessly every shift, every day. Most never anticipated living through a pa... November 29, 2020 He was looking for a liver giver and she delivered Wayne Brown posted on Facebook that he needed a new liver. A long-time friend saw his p... November 24, 2020 IU Health Frankfort Hospital now open The new IU Health Frankfort Hospital is open and ready to serve you. A fence around the... November 24, 2020 Nurse down 75 pounds: ‘Self-care is vital, especially during a pandemic’ As a progressive critical care nurse, Kristy Fields sees many patients treated for symp... November 23, 2020 Q4 2020 Quarterly Report: COVID-19 brings community together, while social distancing Crystal Hinson Miller, chief philanthropy officer for Indiana University Health and pre... November 23, 2020 Father of five girls gets wish with hospital bedside wedding Seven weeks ago, Matthew Rynearson was diagnosed with a neuroendocrine tumor. When he e... November 20, 2020 Transplant Gratitude Triggers $1 Million in Funding Technically, Jerome Josephs received a kidney when he underwent a transplant at IU Heal... November 19, 2020 In the Midst of a Pandemic, Three Foundation Team Members Achieve International Certification Diane Buzzell, Julie Paolillo and Kate Konzen have several new letters after their name... November 19, 2020 Rock band member chooses IU Health for testicular cancer treatment Minnesota native Ryan Keyes came to Indianapolis to play drums in a rock band. Now, he’...