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NYS advocates for increased screening for traumatic brain injuries

Two state agencies are specifically asking health care providers to screen sexual and domestic violence survivors for traumatic brain injuries.

BUFFALO, N.Y. — New York State is raising awareness about the risk of traumatic brain injuries for survivors of domestic and sexual violence.

The New York State Department of Health and Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence just announced new efforts to help health care providers ask appropriate questions when survivors are in their care so they can get the help they need.

This month, the New York State Department of Health and Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence sent a letter to health care providers asking them to specifically screen patients who report, or are suspected survivors, of domestic and sexual violence for traumatic brain injuries.

"When medical professionals screen, it may have an opportunity for somebody to really come forward and, and say, OK, I'm having headaches, I'm experiencing memory loss, I really can't, you know, sometimes I can't make the connections that I need to make. And those should signal a conversation, especially if it's a woman who's presenting. You know, is there a problem with brain injury?" said Kelli Owens, the executive director of the Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence.

Owens says women are under-screened for long-term repeated actions that can cause traumatic brain injuries, such as repeatedly being hit in the face or head, or being shaken by an abuser.

"We often do those types of screenings when somebody has a sports injury, but when somebody comes into an office for their annual physical, we're asking, 'Are they safe at home?', and we may be asking if they have headaches, and we have to make the connection between those types of questions being asked," Owens said.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says survivors of domestic violence are at greater risk of dying from a traumatic brain injury than those who have not had those same experiences.

Owens hopes screening for this becomes the norm.

"It needs to be a standard screening once somebody hits some thresholds. There needs to be some more investigation just as we would do with with football players. Let's put the priority on those that suffer from domestic violence as well," Owens said.

Owens told 2 On Your Side that there's no way of really knowing whether rates of domestic violence are trending up or down since domestic violence is so under-reported.

But in the first few months of the pandemic, so three years ago, she says the state saw the number of incidents reported to the hotline and law enforcement drop. Then two to three months into the pandemic, there was a spike in the number of reports made to the hotline. Owens says now it's up a little, but it's kind of leveled-off.

New York State Domestic and Sexual Violence Hotline: 

Text: 844-997-2121 | Call: 800-942-6906 | Chat: opdv.ny.gov

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