LYNWOOD — When 24 nuns in their habits joined nearly 100 runners two weeks ago in St. Francis Medical Center's "Nun Run" at Lynwood Park, it was for more than just fun.
The group was running to raise money for a long-awaited children's center for the treatment and prevention of child abuse at St. Francis Medical Center.
The center, which offers physical examinations, evaluations and counseling for children who have been physically and sexually abused, opened July 1. It receives its funds from Los Angeles County and private donations.
Current grants total more than $185,000. The center has received about $100,000 from Los Angeles County, $35,000 from the City of Lynwood and $50,000 raised by the medical center through such charitable efforts as the "Nun Run," which contributed about $20,000.
The idea of an abuse treatment center was conceived by hospital staff members, who believed that child abuse victims brought to the hospital could be better served by a special facility.
Typically, before the center opened, the hospital staff's only contact with suspected abuse victims came during examinations in the medical center's emergency room, said Dr. Daniel Higgins, medical director of the emergency department.
Many of the cases would go to court and the children would be placed in foster homes.
"But we could only guess at what happened to them" afterward, said Higgins. "A lot of us cared. We wanted to know what happened to the children. We had no way to follow up to treat them."
The children were being helped by other agencies, such as the county Department of Children Services, but hospital staff members felt an obligation to do more than just examine the abused child, said Higgins, who helped organize the hospital's Suspected Child Abuse and Neglect Team (SCAN) in December, 1981.
The SCAN team at St. Francis is similar to those at other public and private hospitals. Many of them belong, as the St. Francis abuse team does, to the county's Inter-Agency Council on Child Abuse and Neglect, which was formed about three years ago to help public and private agencies work together to improve the system of reporting, investigating and treating child abuse.
The St. Francis abuse team, which is composed of social workers, nurses, doctors and other hospital personnel who volunteer their time, began to keep and monitor statistics on abuse cases. The team found that from January, 1982, to October, 1983, St. Francis averaged about 22 abuse cases monthly. Those numbers convinced the SCAN team that there was a need for a treatment center, Higgins said.
In 1985, monthly abuse cases have ranged from a low of 19 in June to a high of 45 in both January and March.
Debbie Corona is the abuse center's director. Corona is a licensed marriage, family and child counselor and is the former assistant director of a private child abuse prevention program in Los Angeles. She speaks Spanish, which is an important requirement, she said, because the surrounding community is heavily Latino.
Corona said she has counseled more than 25 patients since the center opened.
In counseling sessions, Corona said she tries to help the young patients to feel good about themselves.
"We show them that they are not bad people, that it's not their fault. We also attempt to teach them skills to let them know what to do. They learn they have a right to say no" to their abusers, Corona said.
The patients are referred by the county Department of Children Services, which is part of the Department of Public Social Services, the courts and emergency room doctors.
More than half of the patients have been sexually abused. Of the 19 cases in June, 11 were sexually abused, 3 physically abused and 5 were newborns undergoing drug withdrawal. The addicted babies were born to mothers under the influence of drugs.
"My impression is (that) because the public is more aware of sexual abuse, we are more aware," Higgins said. "We are asking the ryght questions. We're taking the time to do thorough examinations."
The center not only allows the time for detailed examinations and counseling, Higgins said, but the hospital can now keep track of the patients.
St. Francis, a private hospital under the sponsorship of the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent $e Paul, serves several Southeast-area cities, including Huntington Park, Maywood, Bell, Bellflower, Compton, Downey and Norwalk, as well as North Long Beach, Watts and some of South-Central Los Angeles.