S.A.F.E. Nurse Program at CIHA dedicated to helping victims

by Nov 29, 2023NEWS ka-no-he-da0 comments


One Feather Asst. Editor


CHEROKEE, N.C. – Cherokee Indian Hospital Authority’s (CIHA) forensic nurse program is called the S.A.F.E. (Sexual Assault and Forensic Examiners) Nurse Program and is dedicated to helping victims of violence.  The mission statement is “We SEE YOU. We HEAR YOU. We BELIEVE YOU. We are a SAFE place and are here to help”.

“Our nurses are not only sexual assault nurses,” said Lisa Ivey-McKinney, RN, BSN, Forensic Nurse coordinator.  “We provide services to any victim of violence.  We serve everyone from children to elders.  Our nurses have specialized training in collection of evidence, medical care, and trauma-informed care for victims of violence.”

She added, “We provide follow-up care of victims and ensure that those affected by violence are given the medical and emotional support needed.”

Ivey-McKinney said their team works closely with various law enforcement and medical agencies.  “Our nurses are also trained to provide testimony if called to testify in court on evidence that was collected during the care of victims.  The SAFE Nurse Program provides care 24/7, and we are available anytime.”

Currently, Ivey is the only full-time worker in the program.  She noted, “We have two nurses that work full time in the Emergency Room and one nurse that works on the in-patient unit.  All these nurses work their full-time jobs and then cover call for our program.”

The S.A.F.E. Nurse Program is funded by a grant from the Indian Health Service to the tune of $250,000 a year for five years.  “The monies are being used for education of hospital staff, nursing, and community partners and paying our program nurses to cover the needs of the community, educational materials, and supplies for our community members.”

Ivey-McKinney noted that the program has aligned itself with two of the hospital’s guiding principles including U wa shv u da nv te lv (‘The one who helps from the heart’) and To hi (‘A state of peace and balance’).

“Our nurses commit to being a part of this program and providing services to our victims of violence, in addition to working a full-time job here at the hospital.  We are committed to providing care to our community.  We believe that providing care and support to our victims of violence and ensuring that they have someone that is a support system for them will begin their road to obtaining To hi after a traumatic event.”

She added, “We are committed to working with entities from all available resources to ensure that our victims of violence are heard, cared for, and start to recover from whatever trauma they have experienced.  We will be doing community outreach and educational events to members of our community.  We hope to be able to go into the local school systems and educate our youth on dating violence, consent, human trafficking and how to obtain help if needed.”

Jennifer Peterson, BSN, RN, FN, clinical nurse educator with the program, commented, “I chose to become a Forensic Nurse Examiner after seeing the need in our community and experiencing issues within my own family. After being physically or sexually abused, no one wants to travel to an unfamiliar place to receive care. They wanted to be treated right here, in the place they know and trust.  I am beyond blessed to be able to serve EBCI, as well as surrounding areas.”

Ivey-McKinney also has a personal story of why she entered the field.  “I chose to become a forensic nurse examiner at first because I am a survivor of intimate partner violence. I saw there was a great need for these services within our community. I worked with Victoria Harlan and Renee Collette to become a trained Forensic Nurse Examiner and began to actively recruit other nurses to work in this field. I also saw that our children had a need for services and how difficult it was to receive services when my son began to have difficulties. I lost my son to substance use at 15-years-old. This has spurned me to work harder to ensure services are available to our children, so that no mother or father has to feel the pain that my family does.”

She added, “When I become frustrated or tired, I think of my son and what a loving and beautiful person he was, and how his life ended too soon. My work and everything that I do with this program is in his memory.”

Renee Collette, RN, Forensic Nurse Examiner, said, “For me, I have noted the issues of violence committed by people on people has been hidden for so long because of so many reasons.  I know that I cannot change what has happened – violence; but I wanted to make sure that people would know they can come in to be seen without any assumption and given trauma-informed care so they can make the best decision that will work for them at that time.”

She went on to say, “I also want people to realize that the door will always be open to return – as many times as they need too.”

The program is looking to expand its services.  “We are working toward being able to do pediatric sexual assault exams within our program so that our kids do not have to be sent somewhere else for these services,” said Ivey-McKinney.  “We are able to do child maltreatment/physical abuse exams, but at the moment only have one pediatric sexual assault nurse.  We are establishing a SART (sexual assault/violence response team) with tribal programs and other resources in Jackson and Swain counties.  This team will come together to establish the best way possible to care for and support victims of violence from the time they seek help all the way through the judicial process if they choose to go that route.  We are consistently evaluating what the needs of our victims of violence are, what we are seeing, and the best ways to support and care for them.”