(COLORADO SPRINGS) — On Wednesday, April 19, a ribbon cutting ceremony was held at UCHealth Memorial Hospital Central to celebrate the new 3,700-square-foot Forensic Center of Excellence.

This space will be dedicated to helping care for victims of violence who need forensic nursing care.

“We like to call in the field, no wrong door,” the Director of the Office for Victims of Crime at the U.S. Department of Justice, Kristina Rose, said. “So when a survivor of a violent crime comes through the doors at this hospital, they are going to be able to get the care that they need from individuals who have been trained and cross-trained across so many different areas.”

The center includes five exam rooms, a nurses’ station, a space for the local organization TESSA, and the forensic telehealth program.

Inside look at one of the five new exam rooms in the Forensic Center of Excellence.

Memorial Hospital will work with 14 rural communities through the telehealth program to provide direct support. Through technology, nurses in rural areas will be able to connect with a nurse at the center to receive assistance in helping patients who have experienced domestic violence, sexual assault, or physical assault.

“I’m thrilled to see what is happening here in Colorado, that it just continues to grow,” Rose said. “But the fact that the tela-nursing hub, if you will, is located here in this center and has the support of so many expert SANEs, is really a gift to the state of Colorado and to survivors of sexual assault.”

Inside the telehealth room, equipment was set up to show how nurses will help communicate with other nurses through technology.

Back in 2013, Memorial Hospital began specific training to treat victims of assault with the Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) and Sexual Assault Forensic Examiner (SAFE) Project. 

Last year, nurses at UCHealth cared for 2,515 patients in need of specialized exams or consultations. During the ribbon-cutting ceremony, Rose spoke on the strength and importance forensic nurses have.

“It’s very hard and it can be very traumatizing,” Rose said. “Sexual assault and forensic nurse examiners that have chosen this work have done it because they… want to run toward the survivors… they’re a special group within themselves and they are doing work that others just don’t necessarily want to do, but they’re bringing that care.”

An important figure in the forensic nursing field was in attendance at the ribbon-cutting ceremony. Virginia Lynch, also known as the “mother” of forensic nursing, came down to see the first-of-its-kind medical unit.

“It is so exciting to me. It is the outcome of an evolution of the development of the concept of having forensically skilled nurses,” said Lynch.

Lynch paved the way for forensic nursing. She first recognized the need to develop a curriculum in order for this occupation to exist in the world of medicine.

In order from left to right, Sarah Hagedorn, Virginia Lynch, and Megan Lechner smile for a photo.

“But there was nowhere that nurses could go for higher education in forensic science,” Lynch said. “So, I approached the University of Texas in Arlington and wrote my own master’s degree program that today is being taught in 92 colleges and universities across the United States, and other countries are picking up the program and beginning to teach higher education in what today is recognized as forensic nursing science.”

The Forensic Center of Excellence will help provide the best care for victims of sexual assault and physical assault while also helping rural communities through the telehealth program.

“If no one had believed in my vision, this wouldn’t exist,” Lynch said. “Victims of crime would not have the resources that are offered to them today, not just in the United States, but it is beginning to take root in countries around the world.”

The center was funded thanks to a $3 million grant from the Colorado Division of Criminal Justice and is expected to open to patients the week of April 24.