Thrive by IU Health

April 07, 2021

On a terrible day, Center gives victims hope

IU Health Ball Memorial Hospital

On a terrible day, Center gives victims hope

Nicole Perkins meets people on the worst days of their lives. As a forensic nurse examiner at Indiana University Health Ball Memorial Hospital in Muncie, she cares for victims of sexual assault, domestic abuse and other traumas who come to the emergency department for treatment and examination.

And she dispenses hope.

That job resonates with the name of the unit where Nicole works. As shift coordinator for the Center of Hope, Nicole ensures that there is at least one forensic nurse examiner available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

For Nicole, this role was realized while working at the hospital during a time when such round-the-clock coverage didn’t exist. She started with IU Health as an emergency department technician in 2003, when few nurses were trained in forensic care. As a result, she saw too many victims having to wait in the ER for a certain nurse to examine them.

Now when a victim comes to IU Health Ball Memorial Hospital, a specially trained nurse will always be there – a resource that’s called on too often: Nicole said her team typically sees about 100 sexual assault victims each year, while also treating non-sexual domestic abuse patients.

When someone comes into the center, a nurse explains the detailed process needed to gather evidence. It can be a difficult process that requires a head-to-toe assessment, collecting biological samples, taking photographs and discussing the incident. Throughout the process, the nurses ensure patients know their rights and gain a sense of control.

“It can be a long process, around four hours or more,” Nicole says, “from the beginning to hugging them when they leave.”

When they’re not meeting with victims, Nicole’s team provides other medical services in the ER, engages in community education, provides peer review to each other’s cases, pursues training, participates in a consortium of peers from throughout the IU Health system, and provides such niche services such as teaching people how to properly install child car seats.

Forensic nurses also ensure that, before patients leave the ER on the day of the incident, they have the resources they need to pursue healing and seek safety. Because forensic nurses are devoted to this care and don’t see other patients, they can spend as much time as is needed to help these patients until they feel they are ready to move on and get beyond this day.

“A lot of times they’re just at a loss when they first get here,” Nicole says, “but you can see that sense of hope when they’re leaving. That’s why we’re here.”

If you would like to support our Centers of Hope, which provide care for victims of all forms of trauma, visit the IU Health Foundation online donation page. Once directed to the site, select "Other" under "Please Direct My Gift To" and then type "Center of Hope."

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