Stacey Mitchell of Harris Health System received the Virginia A. Lynch Pioneer Award in Forensic Nursing by the International Association of Forensic Nurses, the highest honor bestowed by the more than 3,000-member association with membership in 27 countries.
This award recognizes an individual who has made exceptional contributions to the field of forensic nursing through clinical programs development, scientific achievement, legislation changes or educational activities. Virginia A. Lynch was a founding member of the association and a pioneer in what is today forensic nursing.
“I am humbled to receive this award,” Mitchell says.” This award means so much to me and the team. It recognizes our work in advancing care for forensic patients.”
Mitchell has 25 years of nursing experience including 21 in the field of forensic nursing. She currently serves as administrative director of Risk Management and Patient Safety and Forensic Nursing Services for Harris Health System.
In 2009, Mitchell began the Forensic Nursing Program at Harris Health, a unique program that serves a wide range of cases including violence, trauma and injury, and sexual, child, domestic and elder abuse. The program is an integral part of Harris Health’s Level I and Level III trauma centers at Ben Taub Hospital and Lyndon B. Johnson Hospital, respectively.
When a patient is identified for forensic care, a forensic nurse oversees all aspects of care including immediate crisis counseling and evidence gathering. The nurse is trained on the dynamics of forensic medicine and proper evidence collection. This includes detailing injuries, taking photos, and securing hair and specimen samples.
While most hospitals do forensic files on sexual assault cases, Harris Health’s robust program is available 24/7/365 and often times collaborates with various law enforcement agencies from the greater Houston area.
Mitchell became intrigued with forensic nursing in the early 1990s when the profession was emerging and she was working on her master’s degree. Her first success in the specialized job was as coordinator and creator of a new forensic program for a hospital in Richmond, Virginia. She worked there nine years making it a success. In 2002, she moved to Houston to work for the Harris County Medical Examiner’s Office to launch the forensic nursing death investigator program. The team of investigators worked closely with families of deceased, performed crime scene assessment and documentation. Additionally, the nurses performed post-mortem sexual assault kits on homicide victims.
Mitchell is nationally certified as a sexual assault nurse examiner (SANE) for pediatric and adult patients and is active in multiple nursing organizations including American Association of Legal Nurse Consultants and the International Association of Forensic Nurses, where she has served as president and as a member on the board of directors.