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Beginning in August, Carroll Hospital staff who meet with victims of possible domestic violence will screen them to determine if they are at a high risk of being injured or killed if they return to their situation.

Lethality assessments are already done by law enforcement officers when they respond to domestic violence calls, according to Tracey Yingling, the program coordinator at the hospital, but the program is new Carroll Hospital.

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Assessments expanding to the hospital are another way to connect individuals with resources, or at least make them aware that resources are available.

In the past, hospital staff had pamphlets and cards — designed to be discreet — they could give to individuals they believed were in a domestic violence situation, but no method to determine if they were in immediate danger, according to Yingling.

"Now they know we're asking," she said. "Now they know we care."

Brenda Harkavy, assistant state's attorney and member of the county's Special Victims Unit, said she hopes the assessments lead to more people being connected to services and fewer domestic violence cases.

"My goal as a prosecutor is to see a reduction of crime and if there's something in the community that can save someone's life before it gets to me, that's even better," she said.

Assessments are protected by medical privacy laws, but Harkavy said they can be obtained as a part of a medical records request in a case.

The screening questions ask about past violence, weapons in the home and other risk factors. If someone scores high enough to screen in, they have the option of being placed on the phone with a counselor from Family and Children's Services of Central Maryland right away.

"I think this will only improve the services we're able to provide for Carroll County," said Kelley Rainey, director of domestic violence services for Family and Children's Services of Carroll County.

The lethality assessment phone call is confidential, according to Rainey, and will focus on meeting the immediate needs of the caller.

Hospital staff have been trained to administer the screening — including how and when to ask the questions — and the program begins Aug. 1.

The initial questions to determine if a patient needs a lethality assessment will be part of the overall health and well-being questions asked by staff, according to Yingling.

Studies have shown that someone needs to go through a lethality assessment screening five times before they will reach out for resources, according to Rainey. Hospital staff being trained adds another person who will express concern and withhold judgment, she said.

Rainey said engaging in programs with FCS makes a person 40 percent less likely to be injured or killed by their intimate partner.

Services range from a shelter for domestic violence victims to abuser intervention programs and safety plans to help families change the ways they interact.

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"We're definitely not in the business of breaking up relationships," Rainey said.

Yingling said connecting people to community resources is not always about ending the relationship but is often about preserving it.

"It's not always about getting them out of there right this second," she said.

Rainey said even if someone does not want to speak to a counselor on the spot, they may be receptive to speaking to someone later. Hearing the message repeatedly can also show a person that they may be in a domestic violence situation though they don't realize it.

"If you don't think you're in a domestic violence relationship, why would you look for domestic violence resources?" Rainey said.

Yingling said it's important to give options and resources because it gives power to the victim.

"If we stood there and told them how to handle the situation, we would be no better than the abuser," she said.

Harkavy said the lethality assessments help her office because a certain score can indicate the prosecutor assigned to the case needs to give special attention to a victim.

Harkavy also said assessments may indicate to hospital staff that the individual's injuries could be the result of domestic violence and need to be thoroughly documented in case charges are later filed.

"More awareness, especially in the medical field, helps to pick up those signs," she said.

How to get help

24-hour Carroll County Domestic Violence Hotline: 443-865-8031

Family and Children's Services Office: 410-876-1233

Walk-ins welcome 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at 22 N. Court St., Westminster

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