Southwest Virginia Community Health Systems (SVCHS) is partnering with Children’s Advocacy Center of Highlands Community Services (CAC) to provide exams to child abuse and sexual assault victims in the City of Bristol and Smyth and Washington Counties.
The Children’s Advocacy Center is located in Bristol, Virginia and leverages the efforts of law enforcement, prosecutors, medical and mental health providers, social workers, and others to provide a seamless, comprehensive system of support for child victims of sexual and physical abuse, and neglect.
In December 2017, the CAC staff met with members of local, state and federal legislators to discuss the needs of the program, and access to forensic medical examinations for child victims was at the top of the list. Staff from Senator Tim Kaine’s Abingdon office recommended that the CAC contact Southwest Community Health Systems.
That contact was made and “Southwest Virginia Community Health Systems literally was on board from that initial outreach,” explained Kathi Roark, CAC ‘s Program Director.
An initial meeting was held in February between CAC staff and two SVCHS staff physicians and the Medical Director, Dr. Kristin Bresowar, and “things just fell into place immediately,”
Roark said. A grant was obtained by the CAC from the Elgin Foundation to purchase the needed medical and photo documentation equipment for three exam rooms (1 each in Bristol, Meadowview, and Saltville) and to allow the physicians to access specialized training.
Bresowar said, “SVCHS is driven by our mission as a community health center to try to help provide for all primary care medical needs of the communities we serve. When we were approached by the CAC to provide these exams for the community, we saw this as an extension of our mission to make sure the people of southwest Virginia have access to compassionate comprehensive care. We are honored to be able to work all of the CAC partners to provide victims of sexual and physical abuse medical care near home.”
The region served by the CAC has suffered from a lack of forensic medical services for child abuse victims, despite the region’s high rate of child sexual and physical abuse.
“The child abuse rate in the 28th Judicial District continues to be greater than most other jurisdictions in Virginia and is much, much higher than the state average. Despite this, no child abuse examination services were available through any source (private provider or hospitals) for the past 3 years in the district, when the former provider moved to another state. Children and families were being asked to travel long distances to other localities, and in some cases, other states, according to Roark. “It was very hard to tell families that we could not meet this need,” Roark said, “especially when the examination was time sensitive.” “We owe it to children who have been victims of crime to provide a timely response for any injuries to be diagnosed and treated,” said Roark, “and we could not have asked for more caring, competent, and compassionate partners than the staff of SVCHS.”