Fargo hospital sees a doubling in ER visits by domestic assault patients amid pandemic

Published: May. 21, 2020 at 7:23 PM CDT
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Sanford Hospital doctors and nurses are on the front lines of saving lives amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Yet, another thing on their plate is an increase in patients stopping by the emergency room with serious injuries.

“We’re seeing a doubling in stabbings and overall assaults, where people are just beating on each other,” Dr. Jeff Tiongson, an ER doctor at Sanford, said. “Disturbingly, we're also seeing... a little more than doubling of pediatric child abuse cases.”

Dr. Tiongson is also the medical director of the emergency department and he said he’s treated some of those patients.

“I have five kids of my own... and they're around the same age as some of your kids. And you think back on that. It's literally impossible not to have that affect you in some way,” Tiongson said.

If the battered child is not brought in by authorities, law enforcement is immediately contacted when a child shows up to the ER with serious injuries.

“Quite a bit life-threatening,” Dr. Tiongson said, describing some of the injuries. “Some serious head injuries. Bleeding around the brain. Broken bones, things like that.”

As the numbers have doubled, Tiongson said it makes sense to him that being isolated in a home due to the pandemic may be a reason for the increase in domestic violence. He acknowledged there isn’t any scientific data proving the link.

Numbers from Fargo police showed an increase in calls for service for domestic violence, compared to last year. The timing was from March 11 to present. There wasn’t, however, an increase in reports filed.

There are agencies in the Fargo-Moorhead area tasked with assisting those who need refuge from domestic violence.

The YWCA Cass Clay has an emergency shelter in Fargo and it says in a statement that women continue to call asking for help, and it will continue to welcome women and kids.

“In April, 911 calls to Red River Regional Dispatch for domestic issues were up 18% over last year,” YWCA CEO Erin Prochnow said. “YWCA maintains daily operations and continues to empower women and their families to find peace and recover physically, emotionally, and spiritually from the damaging effects of homelessness and violence.”

FIrst Link has a call helpline that covers the entire state of North Dakota and parts of Minnesota, and it said it has taken more than 1,000 calls.

Moreover, First Link has seen an increase of 500 suicide calls over last year during the same time period.

Chris Johnson of the Rape and Abuse Crisis Center in Fargo said his agency saw a decrease in the beginning of the outbreak.

“Overall our productivity, if you will, dropped 20 percent, which's pretty alarming for us. Because you know we have 43 years of pretty consistent programming data,” Johnson, the non-profit’s executive director, said.

Still, things are picking back up at the Rape and Abuse Crisis Center.

“There's a lot of risk for a victim to reach out, to assist them with help, when they're in a domestic violence situation,” Johnson said. “So a victim really has to weigh that risk.”

He said domestic violence is a hard cycle to break, yet it can be achieved with help.

If you need confidential help or support, you can call 211 for immediate service 24/7. You can also text your zip code to 898-211.