Woman's murder spurs Texas hospital to overhaul its domestic violence screening process

John Peter Smith Hospital in Fort Worth, Texas, completely changed its domestic violence screening policy after a woman who had visited the hospital's emergency room was later killed by her partner, according to the Dallas Morning News.

More than a year and half ago, Mary Ann Contreras, the hospital's violence and injury prevention manager, was reviewing medical records and found that a woman who had come to the hospital ER three times for different injuries, including a broken leg, was killed by her boyfriend just days after her last ER visit. The hospital did not screen her for domestic abuse.

Ms. Contreras found that the hospital had very low screening rates, for several reasons. One was that nurses were required to ask open-ended questions and ascertain for the themselves whether abuse was likely. And often, nurses did know what to do if they discovered a patient was a domestic abuse victim.

Now, the hospital's screening involves more precise questioning. Patients are asked to rate on a scale of one to five how often their partners have hurt them, insulted them, threatened them and screamed at them. Each answer has a score, and in cases where the total score is over 10, patients are offered support and resources for domestic violence.

The hospital debuted the screening process in May 2018, and through November 2019, it identified 704 patients who were domestic abuse victims.

The slain woman's case also led to the creation of a partnership between healthcare professionals in the region, the Dallas-Fort Worth Intimate Partner Violence Coalition.

The murdered woman had also been treated at other healthcare organizations in the region, but her case had not been flagged. Organizations that are part of the coalition are examining their own domestic abuse screening processes.

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