If you are in crisis, contact The Crisis Center 24-hour Crisis Line: 303-688-8484, The National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or visit TheHotline.org.

DENVER (KDVR) — Forensic nurses at UCHealth are shining a light on the rise in violence during the COVID-19 pandemic. The healthcare system is one of the first to offer an outpatient clinic to victims of violence as well as specialized care.

Forensic nurses say the severity of violence during the pandemic is both evident and alarming. To put that in perspective, when the program started in 2017, the clinic was seeing about 20 patients a month. Now in 2022, they’re seeing about 200 victims a month.

Violence is surging across the country and Colorado is no exception. With the increase and April being Sexual Assault Awareness Month, UCHealth’s University of Colorado Hospital is raising awareness about the spike in severe violence and resources for victims in the Denver metro area.

UCHealth is one of few facilities to offer the Forensic Nurse Examiner Program. Christine Foote-Lucero is the program manager.

“During the pandemic, we definitely saw an increase in the severity of the violence,” Foote-Lucero said. “We are one of the only comprehensive forensic programs in the state, so we will see sexual assault victims, as well as patients affected by elder abuse, human trafficking, domestic violence, strangulation, vehicular assaults and gunshot wounds and stabbings.”

Foote-Lucero and other specially trained nurses make sure victims are healthy, connect them with vital resources, serve as witness experts in court and collect evidence in special forensic suites if the victim is comfortable.

UCHealth Forensic Nurse Examiner Program (Credit: UCHealth)

“It allows us to provide a quiet place to evaluate and treat patients that are affected by violence away from the chaos and noise of a typical emergency department,” Foote-Lucero said.

When patients arrive at the emergency department, a forensic nurse is called and there is always someone available as the program operates 24/7. From there, the victim will be in their specialized care and in the comfort of the suite, a safe space that is equipped with a shower, personal bathroom and more. Nurses say it brings a sense of trust and comfort after a traumatic event.

“It’s warm and inviting for our patients,” Foote-Lucero described.

UCHealth’s Forensic Nurse Program has grown so much that it offers a special outpatient clinic that allows victims to continue their healing process over time. According to a release from the facility, other programs in the state have been cut due to a lack of federal funds, but UCHealth prides itself on being fully funded and expanding while offering hundreds of victims support and continued healing.