St. Peter’s Health Foundation receives $732k in grant funding to expand forensic nursing program for victims of sexual violence in response to growing community need

April 24, 2024

St. Peter’s Health Foundation was recently awarded $700,000 from the Office on Violence against Women (OVW) U.S Department of Justice (Grant Number 15JOVW-23-GG-02797-RURA) and $32,248.50 from the Montana Board of Crime Control STOP Violence Again Women Act to expand the St. Peter’s Health Forensic Nursing Program. St. Peter’s offers forensic nursing services around the clock to adults and children who have experienced sexual violence in our community such as domestic violence, human trafficking, physical abuse, and/or strangulation.

Over the last two years, the St. Peter’s Emergency Department has seen an over sixty percent increase in patients needing forensic services, and more than doubled seeing pediatric patients for specialized forensic care.

According to St. Peter’s Forensic Nurse Coordinator Whitney Brothers, RN, these grants will cover the cost to maintain and expand these specialized services including providing funding for staff salaries; dedicated nurse training to learn best practices for providing care for pediatric patients and members of the LGBTQIA+ community; supplies; as well as funding to support victims of sexual violence such as clothing, gas cards, hygiene products and other items. The St. Peter’s Health Foundation also recently supported the program with $26,485 from the Hawkins Women and Children’s Endowment fund to purchase a Cortexflo, a specialized camera dedicated to performing forensic medical exams.

“While the majority of patients we see are from our tri-county area, last year about one-third of the total patients we saw were from Toole, Cascade, Gallatin, Powell, and Silverbow counties due to the lack of services available in their communities,” said Brothers. “Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for victims of sexual violence in rural areas to have to travel to receive forensic medical care.”

Gina Boesdorfer, Executive Director for The Friendship Center in Helena, the only agency in the tri-county area dedicated to service victims of domestic and sexual violence, says they served 722 individuals in 2023 including helping at least 115 victims of sexual assault, 52 of which they accompanied to the hospital, medical facility, or forensic exam.

“Year after year, we see an increase of individuals needing assistance due to acts of sexual violence in our community,” said Boesdorfer. “We’re grateful for our ongoing partnership with the St. Peter’s Emergency Department and their commitment to providing forensic services despite the difficulty that exists to fund and grow these programs. Education about these services, why they exist, and what we’re doing locally to combat acts of sexual violence requires consistency and a collaborative approach – we’re doing that with the help of St. Peter’s Health. ”

St. Peter’s is a working member of the Sexual Assault Response Team (SART) in Helena which is made up of local healthcare professionals, law enforcement agencies, advocacy centers, and county attorneys. This multidisciplinary team works together to provide an interagency, coordinated response for sexual assault victims in our community, making the victim the priority and providing access to comprehensive care and community resources. Across the country, SARTs have been proven to increase reports of sexual violence and conviction rates.