In-house counselors help doctors connect victims of domestic violence to services

     The area around Aria Health Frankford had high numbers of domestic violence in a recent survey. (Maiken Scott/WHYY)

    The area around Aria Health Frankford had high numbers of domestic violence in a recent survey. (Maiken Scott/WHYY)

    Hospital visits can provide a rare window of opportunity to offer help to victims of domestic violence. Aria Health on Frankford Avenue in Philadelphia now has an in-house domestic violence counselor to help patients who are dealing with this issue.

    Supervisor Marcella Slick said doctors are much more likely to ask patients about domestic violence when they can connect them to help.

    “They don’t want to uncover a giant can of worms that they don’t have time to deal with, so we know that having a counselor on site who can take this off their hands makes a huge difference with the screening numbers,” she said.

    The program at Aria, run by Lutheran Settlement House, has been in place since September. Since then, 17 patients have been referred to the domestic violence counselor for services. The counselor can connect them to shelters or help them plan their next steps to get out of their situation.

    Akea Williams wears a badge simply saying “counselor,” so she can escort a patient away for a private conversation, without making a potential perpetrator suspicious.

    “I was a diabetic counselor yesterday,” she said with a laugh.

    Williams said she can help women find a place in a shelter, or make plans for being as safe as possible in their current situation.

    Often, she just provides them with contact information, and women get in touch when they are ready to make a move.

    Williams is also training hospital staff how to best screen for domestic violence issues.

    Slick said it’s best to ask very direct questions.

    “In the past year, has your partner ever hit, kicked or punched you, in the past year, has your partner ever called you names or threatened you,” she explained.

    Lutheran Settlement House also has domestic violence counselors at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, Einstein Medical Center, and St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children.

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