When visiting your doctor, you may have noticed that among the questions about how you are sleeping or whether your medications are up to date, you are being asked, “Do you feel safe at home?”
“Our office might be the only opportunity someone has to get away from an abuser,” says Karen Krutchick, MD, Saratoga Hospital Medical Group - Women's Primary Care, “and is often the one place where they feel comfortable telling the truth about what’s going on at home.”
The need for healthcare providers to recognize and treat family violence has been emphasized by several organizations, including the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Family Physicians, the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology, the American College of Nurse Midwives and more. Asking whether a patient feels safe at home is considered a best practice among these groups, as well as our Saratoga Hospital Medical Group – Primary Care physicians and other medical specialties.
“We ask the question at every visit because situations can change at home,” Dr. Krutchick says, “and a new patient might not feel comfortable answering truthfully until they have met us a couple of times.”
When patients say they do not feel safe at home, Dr. Krutchick always asks whether or not they would like help with the situation. This helps reassure patients that they are in control, something they may not have anywhere else. Dr. Krutchick also assures patients that any information provided will be kept strictly confidential, to be used only to offer appropriate healthcare assistance and referrals for domestic violence services.
“Sometimes they aren’t ready to ask for help,” Dr. Krutchick says. “They might not be ready or willing to leave. Either way, I encourage them to come forward to any forum that feels comfortable for them, such as a help line or doctor’s office, and I’ll share information, if they want it, about available resources for them for when they are ready.”
October is Domestic Violence Prevention Month, a time dedicated to raising awareness and sharing resources. Unfortunately, domestic violence cases are increasing. According to the New York State Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence, 5,244 hospital inpatient discharges and emergency department visits across the state were related to domestic violence, an 84% increase over 2017. The State Department of Health determined that domestic violence-related events for men increased dramatically from 380 to 1,467 (285%) over 2017. In cases involving women statewide, 15% were pregnant.
“Abuse can begin or escalate during pregnancy, so it’s imperative we screen regularly for domestic abuse during prenatal visits and inpatient care,” says Carrie Barber, MSN, APRN, CNM, Director of Women's Health Services at Saratoga Hospital. “We recognize domestic violence as a significant public health issue. It’s a potential risk to both the mother and the pregnancy for loss or preterm labor.”
“As providers, we play an important role in prevention, assessment, and intervention,” Barber says. “Communication is key. Whether the abuse is verbal, physical, or any other form of coercive behavior to gain power over you, talk about it with your obstetrician or other care provider. We will work with you to identify an action plan to help you safely get out of the situation and protect you and your baby.”
For help or more information, there are several local resources, including Wellspring (formerly the Domestic Violence and Rape Crisis Services of Saratoga County), the New York State Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence, and the NYS Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NYSCADV).
Wellspring is available 24-hours a day, 7 days a week through their hotline at 518-584-8188. NYSCADV’s 24-hour hotline is 1-800-942-6906 (English) or 1-800-942-6908 (Spanish).
If you feel in immediate danger, call 9-1-1.