Mercy Medical Center is the recipient of the 2017 Victims of Crime Act (VOCA) grant award in the amount of $920,436. The grant comes from the Crime Victims Section of the Office of Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine.

Mercy will use the money to expand the Healing After Violent Encounters Network (HAVEN) program. The program will be expanded from an on-call response to an in-house department to better serve victims of assault who visit the Mercy Emergency Department.

This is the second-year Mercy has received the grant. It was awarded $413,392 from a 2016 VOCA grant.

"The coordinator of the HAVEN program came to us with this grant because she saw a need to build up the program to better serve victims who come through our emergency room at Mercy Medical Center," said Elaine Campbell, director of Mercy Development Foundation. "The first grant was used for training, education and to purchase some equipment such as forensic cameras. Monies from the second grant will allow us to continue with education and training and to transition the SANE program from an on-call program to the HAVEN program where we can have assistance in the hospital around the clock."

Mercy Medical Center established Stark County’s first Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) program in 1999. The program worked to promptly treat sexual assault victims in a safe, compassionate and confidential environment. Beginning in 2011, Mercy partnered with Domestic Violence Project to provide comprehensive medical care, evidence collection, safety planning and supportive options to survivors of domestic violence in need of specialized assistance.

This collaboration has increased survivor’s access to medical services while minimizing safety risks. The program was renamed to HAVEN because of its expanded scope of services to victims of sexual assault, domestic violence and any other intentional acts of violence. The program provides immediate specialized nursing care, evidence collection, support and options to victims of assault, aged 14 and older. Victims under the age of 14 are referred to The Children’s Network of Stark County Child Advocacy Center or Akron Children’s Hospital.

HAVEN program coordinator Sarah Schemmel said that domestic violence and sexual assault happens to both genders and in every social economic group. She said the purpose of HAVEN is to help those victims in the manner they want help.

"This grant will also help us promote our services and to let everyone know about the kind of help we can provide and that the victim will have 100 percent control over the help we provide," Schemmel said. "Every person is different and we are here to help anytime in any way we can. We are a safe zone. For example, some victims of sexual assault want us to do evidence collection and some don’t want us to do that. It’s really up to the victim as to whether they want our help and what kind of help we they want from us."

Schemmell said the first step is always to get into a safe place away from the attacker such as the emergency room. Next, it’s important to tell the healthcare professionals about the assault.

"It’s important for the patient to identify themselves as a sexual assault, domestic violence or human trafficking victim when they are seen by a healthcare professional in the emergency room. They will then be asked if they want help from HAVEN. Our goal is to provide the needed medical care and help move them forward in their healing," Schemmel said.

Both Schemmel and Campbell said the need for the HAVEN program is immense now and its growing. They are both working to inform the public that the program is in place and that the victim is in control of the way HAVEN helps them.

HAVEN offers a team of dedicated nurses and healthcare professionals specially trained to provide comprehensive physical and emotional care. For more information, visit cantonmercy.org/haven or contact HAVEN by calling 330-489-1000, ext. 2170.