The New York State Department of Health and Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence today announced efforts to raise awareness of the prevalence of traumatic brain injuries for survivors of domestic and sexual violence, and the critical role proper screening can play in health outcomes. In conjunction with Traumatic Brain Injury Awareness Month in March, Acting Health Commissioner Dr. James McDonald and OPDV Executive Director Kelli Owens co-authored a letter to health care providers throughout the state, highlighting how diligent screenings and appropriate referrals are essential to ensuring survivors get the care they need to recover.
“Gender-based violence and traumatic brain injuries clearly intersect because all too often, survivors suffer blows to the face or head or are shaken or strangled,” OPDV Executive Director Kelli Owens said. “By recognizing this link and the frequency these injuries manifest in domestic and sexual violence cases, healthcare providers can take the proper first steps to treat these injuries so that survivors get the proper care from the outset.”
“In order to make the right referrals and improve patient outcomes, it is essential to screen victims of domestic and sexual abuse for traumatic brain injuries," Acting State Health Commissioner Dr. James McDonald said. “Health care providers should be aware of the appropriate screening questions to ask when encountering a patient who has been harmed by intimate partner violence to ensure the patient is properly assessed and receives prompt treatment."
Roughly 150 traumatic brain injuries incidents occur daily in New York State, with many resulting in hospital treatment or death. Each year, traumatic brain injuries result in more than 2,200 deaths, 17,000 hospitalizations, and nearly 38,000 emergency department visits in New York State.
Survivors of violence who have been hit in the face or head, fallen, and hit their head, or been shaken or strangled are at risk of sustaining a traumatic brain injury. They may suffer this type of injury when struck with an object in the head or neck, or when pushed against a wall or other surface or down a flight of stairs, or from being physically shaken or strangled.
Brain injuries are often permanent and disabling, and timely recognition and appropriate response is crucial to improve patient outcomes. Survivors of domestic and sexual violence, however, may minimize or choose not to disclose their injuries, making it critical for providers to properly recognize the signs of a traumatic brain injury, which include:
- repeated vomiting
- worsening or severe headache
- being excessively drowsy or unable to be awakened
- having one pupil larger than the other
- having convulsions or seizures
- being increasingly confused, restless, or agitated
- having difficulty walking, with balance or decreased coordination
- having slurred speech or difficulty with vision
- loss of consciousness
Providers should implement a trauma-informed approach when caring for patients reporting or appearing to be survivors of domestic or sexual violence. They are encouraged to establish a connection with the patient, engage in active listening and validate their emotional state, even if the individual they are treating is not ready to seek help in their situation.
Public Health Law requires health care providers advise a patient who is a suspected survivor of domestic or sexual violence that services are available through domestic and sexual violence providers and victim assistance organizations. They are also required to contact the appropriate organization and request that a victim assistance advocate be provided if the patient requests one.
To further raise awareness and educate New Yorkers, the Department of Health works closely with advocates, health care providers, and other federal and state agencies, including Traumatic Brain Injury Services Coordinating Council, the CDC, and National Association of State Health Injury Administrators. Additional information is available on the Department of Health's website.