Ontario nurses keep women and girls safe by screening for abuse

    TORONTO, March 8 /CNW/ - As we mark International Women's Day, nurses in
Ontario are working behind the scenes to protect women and girls from becoming
victims of violence.
    Statistics show that women who are abused are likely to visit a
health-care facility 11 times before the abuse is recognized. That's why Woman
Abuse: Screening, Identification and Initial Response, an evidence-based, best
practice guideline developed by the Registered Nurses' Association of Ontario
(RNAO) recommends that nurses working in all health-care settings routinely
screen all females over the age of 12 for abuse. Directly asking all women and
girls if they have experienced violence gives those in abusive relationships
an opportunity to discuss their situation with a nurse in a safe and
supportive environment.
    Cornwall Community Hospital was one of the first hospitals in Ontario to
introduce screening for woman abuse. The hospital recently passed a policy
requiring every registered nurse to conduct the screening. At this time, all
women and girls over the age of 12 are screened for abuse when they enter the
Emergency Department. As more nurses at the hospital receive the training
required to carry out the screening, it will become routine in every
department in the hospital.
    "We know that women who are victimized over a long period of time will
not volunteer the information because they've been brainwashed into thinking
that no one will believe them, that it isn't abuse, or that if they tell,
their partner will hurt her or her family," explains Tazim Virani, Program
Director, RNAO Nursing Best Practice Guidelines Program.
    "The screening is very effective," says Sarah Kaplan, a social worker who
is the Coordinator of the Cornwall Community Hospital's Assault and Sexual
Abuse Program and a member of the panel that developed the guideline. "For
example, we had a woman come in with a broken arm and when she was asked about
abuse, she denied it. But, the story just didn't match. So, the nurse got her
alone in a room and just gently said 'I'm concerned about how you got these
injuries. They don't seem consistent with your story. We see injuries like
this with someone who has been hurt. Did someone hurt you?' And then she said
'Yes, my husband did this to me.'"
    Virani says nurses are the most appropriate members of the health-care
team to screen women for abuse. "Their role is extremely important. People see
nurses as very open, they're often frontline and they apply a holistic
approach. The time they spend with the patient is critical because they need
to determine whether it's possible that the patient is being abused."
    When screening women and girls, nurses may discover that their condition
is a result of the abuse. In one instance, Kaplan explains the nursing team
discovered a woman had suffered a miscarriage. "We found out that the
miscarriage occurred because she was kicked by her boyfriend," says Kaplan.
    Screening all women is a new philosophy and Kaplan admits it takes some
nurses time to adjust to their new role. "We know that we are making history.
This is a huge change. It involves changing attitudes and questioning your
opinions about abuse," says Kaplan. She adds that for nurses, the rewards of
screening all women and girls greatly outweigh the challenges. "Nurses have
the opportunity to save a life - and not just the life of the woman, there are
usually children involved."
    RNAO's ambitious Best Practice Guidelines Program, funded by the Ministry
of Health and Long-Term Care was launched in 1999 to provide the best
available evidence for patient care across a wide spectrum of health-care
areas. The 30 guidelines developed to date are a substantive contribution
towards building excellence in Ontario's health-care system. They are
available to nurses and other health-care professionals across Canada and
abroad. To learn more about RNAO's Nursing Best Practice Guidelines Program or
to view these resources, please visit www.rnao.org/bestpractices.

    The Registered Nurses' Association of Ontario is the professional
association representing registered nurses in Ontario. Since 1925, RNAO has
lobbied for healthy public policy, promoted excellence in nursing practice,
increased nurses' contribution to shaping the health-care system, and
influenced decisions that affect nurses and the public they serve.

For further information:

For further information: Jill-Marie Burke, Media Relations Coordinator,
Registered Nurses' Association of Ontario, Work phone: (416) 408-5606, Mobile
phone: (647) 504-4008, Toll-free: 1-800-268-7199 ext.250, E-mail:

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