Published on July 10, 2020

group of volunteers

Angels Among Us

Karen and Save Westreich of Rockville, Maryland, have volunteered 7,300 hours at Adventist HealthCare Shady Grove Medical Center. One small moment of that time stands out: Meeting a family whose child received services in the hospital’s Forensic Medical Unit (FMU).

“Nothing has touched our hearts like the FMU. The work they do is so difficult and so essential,” Karen said. “I just think they’re angels.”

The FMU is the only one of its kind in Montgomery County, with 11 nurses specially trained to care for crime victims and collect medical evidence. Their job is challenging and emotional. They comfort and treat patients impacted by physical or sexual assault, human trafficking, child abuse and neglect of the elderly. Sadly, recent demand for their services has grown. Among the many tragedies of COVID-19 is a jump in domestic violence cases. In 2019, the nurses cared for 851 cases. So far this year, their caseload is up 20% and the injuries they are seeing are more severe.

In awe of the unit’s work, Karen and Dave donated $100,000 to double the unit’s exam rooms, add nurse workstations and provide a comfortable family waiting room. The new space opened this March, just in time for the spike of patients brought in by COVID-19.

Karen and Dave were even more motivated to give after getting to know the unit’s director, nurse practitioner Jessica Volz. She leads her nurses to partner with community agencies, advocate for victim rights legislation and educate the community on healthy relationships. Last year, the unit hosted nurses from Brazil and Korea at Shady Grove and taught them how to care for victims of sexual crimes in their countries, where forensic nursing is new.

Last year, the Montgomery County Council honored the unit for contributions to its task force on human trafficking, an issue that Jessica opened Dave’s eyes about.

“You’d see it on the news, you’d read it in the newspaper, but I didn’t know it was so prevalent in our backyard,” he said. “And then I found out subsequently about all the advocacy that Jessica and her team had done. And it’s blown me away that she’s on Capitol Hill, she’s in Annapolis, she’s in Brazil.”

Jessica is emotional sharing what the donation means to her team. “The reason we come to work is because of the work that we do. We’re lucky that everybody in our unit has found that calling. And to have people acknowledge that calling and give us the ability to do our jobs even better is very touching.”

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