Local emergency room personnel are trained to pick up signs and symptoms of domestic abuse, officials say.
"We look for bruises and injuries that are not consistent with the story (a patient tells)," said Teri Howick, nurse educator for the emergency room at McKay-Dee Hospital Center in Ogden.
A study released Wednesday by the Utah Department of Health, however, revealed just 58 percent of emergency staff in urban areas, like Weber, Davis, Salt Lake and Utah counties, reported asking patients about domestic abuse.
In rural areas, the numbers are even lower, with only 43 percent of the staff broaching the subject of domestic abuse with patients.
Those numbers are improving, and the study reported that emergency department staff are in an important position "to uncover and ultimately stop the cycle of domestic violence."
Responses from 31 hospital emergency rooms, with a total of 102 surveys, were collected for the study,
The Utah Department of Health and the Utah Domestic Violence Council Health Care Committee provide training to health-care providers on how to screen and assess patients suspected of being victims of domestic violence.
Syracuse Police Chief Brian Wallace said it is common for police to receive reports of domestic abuse from emergency room personnel.
Utah law requires health-care providers to report to law enforcement about any injuries that may have been caused by another person. The law also protects health-care providers from being fired, suspended or disciplined for reporting the abuse.
But there is a gray area, Howick said.
Federal law prohibits health-care providers from discussing a person's treatment if the patient does not give consent.
And if an adult maintains he or she was not assaulted, then "our hands are tied," she said.
Howick said many times the abuser comes to the emergency room with the patient.
One of the signs of abuse is when the patient is being asked questions but looks to the abuser to answer the questions, she said.
"That's when it gets dicey, because they're not going to admit what happened in fear of when they get home they will get beat up," Howick said.
Staff are trained not only to spot signs of abuse but also to use various methods to get the patient away from the abuser and let the patient know he or she is in a safe place.
Personnel at Ogden Regional Medical Center, like many other hospitals, will place a patient in a secure room if they believe that patient is in danger, said Janet Smith, the emergency department director.
It protects not only the patient but staff as well, Smith said.
Also, security personnel and social workers will be called to assist with the patient, and if necessary, "we will put the department in lockdown if we think someone is being threatened," she said.
Most hospitals have information about local domestic violence resources posted in restrooms or waiting rooms, so the patient can discreetly take the information and slip it into a purse, pocket, shoe or bra, Howick said.
According to the survey, 81 percent of urban-area emergency departments said they have information about local domestic violence resources available for patients. That is a 20 percent increase from a similar survey in 2003.
Rural areas reported a 53 percent increase of printed resources available to patients.
Kay Card, executive director of Safe Harbor, a shelter in Kaysville, said women will not admit to abuse if they do not know what resources or options are available.
She also said it is common for women to not get treated for injuries "because they did not want to face talking about the abuse."
"Never underestimate how much shame comes into this," Card said.
"We need to reinforce to women it's not their fault. Violence is never their fault."