Victims of trauma are all around us

That’s a rather startling statement and one we might regard with some skepticism. Is it possible that some of the very people we know or work with, while appearing alright on the outside could be carrying some serious baggage on the inside caused by personal trauma? Statistics suggest as much. According to some estimates, nearly half of all women are victims of violence. In some Indiana counties, rates of child abuse or neglect approach 20 out of every 1,000 children. Unfortunately, COVID has exacerbated the circumstances that contribute to incidents of domestic violence.

How do we define trauma? Victims of physical, sexual, verbal and psychological violence. Individuals grieving from the loss of a loved one. The newly unemployed or a family with serious financial issues. A victim of human trafficking. Any circumstance that overwhelms our internal coping mechanisms can be defined as trauma. And trauma left unrecognized or untreated can have a devastating, long-term impact on behavior and quality of life.

Lori Hardie, manager of Simulation at Franciscan Health Indianapolis, knows this better than most. She is a survivor of trauma caused by an unhealthy family dynamic throughout her childhood and as a young adult. Now having found her own safe harbor, she educates healthcare providers on the importance of delivering “trauma-informed care.”

“We in healthcare are taught, above all else, to do no harm,” Hardie said. “But often, unknowingly, we can exhibit behaviors in our interactions with patients that have the potential to cause harm. With increased awareness and education, there are simple ways for clinicians to provide a safe, non-judgmental environment for patients.”

Hardie and her team educate their Franciscan colleagues about the impacts of trauma and the importance of providing trauma-informed care to all patients. Often, the first step is acknowledging and mitigating our own personal biases.

Example: A woman comes into the ER showing symptoms consistent with having been the victim of domestic violence. Her caregivers question why she doesn’t simply leave her abuser. Back story: She has two young children and is afraid they will be harmed if she tries to flee. She feels trapped. A caregiver questioning her motives only adds to the patient’s guilt and sense of worthlessness.

“As professionals we can never know all the circumstances that cause people to make the choices they do, and passing judgement can be harmful,” Hardie said. “Our job is to respectfully and compassionately deliver care in a non- threatening environment.”

Long-term solutions for victims of violence or trauma are complex, but Hardie reminds caregivers that they are not responsible for “fixing” or “saving” patients, but rather for providing patients with choice, control, compassion, education and resources that support their own agency.

Franciscan at Work in the Community

The Franciscan Health Foundation started the Community Health and Wellness Fund in late 2019 to help support programs that assist the most vulnerable populations in our communities by addressing economic stability, quality education and healthcare access. Victims of Violence is among the programs supported through the Fund.