The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

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November 8, 2012

Twp. hosts trauma forum: Abuse of children, elderly focus of annual event

TIRE HILL — Rescue squads, ambulance crews and emergency room staff are on the front line of the fight against abuse of children and the elderly, two law enforcement leaders said.

Cambria County District Attorney Kelly Callihan and Coroner Dennis Kwiatkowski outlined reporting responsibilities and gave tips on what to watch for on the scene of serious injuries to children and older residents during “Extremes of Trauma Care,” Memorial Medical Center’s annual trauma conference.

“We were trying to put into perspective that they are so crucial to us in trying to prove our cases,” Callihan said after Thursday’s presentation.

About 230 nurses, nursing students, emergency medical technicians, paramedics and other medical workers participated in the conference at Conemaugh Township Volunteer Fire Company in Tire Hill.

The daylong program covered different aspects of emergency treatment and follow-up medical care for both the youngest and the oldest trauma patients, with emphasis on recognizing and treating abuse victims, said Dr. Russell Dumire, medical director of Memorial’s Level One trauma center.

“Pediatric abuse has been in the limelight for years,” Dumire said. “We are seeing more elder abuse. It is just not as recognized because people don’t think to look.”

Front-line medical workers have some unique legal opportunities to protect the abused and help prosecutors convict their abusers, Callihan told the conference participants.

Medical workers can testify about what children tell them during treatment under an exception to the hearsay rule that normally disallows second-hand testimony, Callihan said.

“If you can get these kids talking, we can put you guys up there to say: She told me this,” Callihan said.

Medical workers also have the legal authority to take children into protective custody if they feel the child’s well-being is threatened, said Dr. Donna Balewick of Indiana Regional Medical Center.

“I am going to do what I need to do to protect that child,” Balewick said.

Kwiatkowski said he was impressed with the scope of the conference, saying, “It’s going from the grass roots at the house through the prosecution.”

Taking a cue from the political campaign season, Thursday’s conference wrapped with a light-hearted debate comparing challenges of pediatric trauma care versus geriatric trauma care.

Dr. James Gregory, Conemaugh Physician Group trauma surgeon, presented the geriatric case. Dr. Shawna Morrissey, chief surgical resident at Memorial, gave the arguments for pediatric trauma.

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