The Coast News Group
San Diego County Board of Supervisor Dave Roberts speaks during a press conference last week announcing that funding stemming from a public and private partnership will keep the Forensic Health Center in operation. Photo by Rachel Stine
Rancho Santa Fe Lead Story

Public, private partnership saves health center

REGION — When a victim comes to Palomar Health’s Forensic Health Center, they’re often at one of the lowest points in their lives. It was for Crystal Harris.

That evening in 2008, Harris had gathered the courage to call the police on her husband after he raped her the second time in five days in their Carlsbad home.

She said that at the time, “All you basically want to do is crawl into bed and not talk to anybody.”

But the police needed her to cooperate to complete their investigation.

It was about 2 a.m. or 3 a.m. by the time she was taken to the Forensic Health Center in Escondido for a SART (Sexual Assault Response Team) examination for the collection of forensic and verbal evidence about her assault.

Harris said that having the facility in North County rather than having to travel to San Diego for the exam, helped during the long, traumatic experience.

“If I had to go any longer or any further than I already did, it would have just added more hours. That would have been horrible. I could barely stand it as it was,” she said of going to the center.

Harris later inspired a new state law after she was ordered to pay spousal support after her ex-husband was sent to prison for sexually assaulting her. The law prevents victims of spousal abuse from having to pay alimony.

Harris is grateful for the services and support the center provided her that night, which helped prosecute her spouse for sexual assault.

“It is a place that no woman ever wants to find herself of course, but the people that are there are amazing,” she said.

The Forensic Health Center has been providing services for victims of sexual assault, child abuse, and violent crimes 24 hours a day for the past 30 years. Experts from the center are able to present the evidence and testimony collected later in court, which spares victims from having to undergo repeated interviews.

The Center completed exams and interviews for children who witnessed the Kelly Elementary School shooting in 2010 and Azalyea Duran, an eight-year-old girl from San Marcos who survived after being stabbed 27 times by an attacker.

This past April, the center provided services for 55 children and adults.

It is the only one of its kind in North County, and it almost closed its doors at the end of last year due to lack of funding.

But thanks to combined efforts from county officials and private donors, the Center’s financial future and continued operations have been secured for years to come.

To begin, the Sheriff’s Department as well as other law enforcement agencies in North County have agreed to pay more for the services provided by the center. That way the fees cover the cost of the services and the center’s operations.

The center was also in need of $150,000 for facility upgrades to keep its license, including making the bathrooms ADA compliant.

Escondido’s Golden Door Spa has provided $75,000 for the improvements, and Supervisor Dave Roberts will donate the other half of the funds at a county meeting next month.

“As the father of five county foster kids, I can tell you how critical this is to North County,” Roberts said.

Roberts as well as Supervisor Bill Horn have already donated money for new equipment at the center.

The new funding was announced at a press conference on May 29.

“We are deeply moved by the affirmation of our mission,” said Cathy McLennan, who supervises the center.

She said the new fees plus funding from the county and Golden Door Spa have secured the center’s operations for years. But fundraising for the long run will continue.

McLennan emphasized the center’s importance by reading a quote from a foster child who received services there years ago, “We must talk until there are no more words. We must explain until everything is understood. We must be honest until nothing is hidden. And we must listen until everything has been said.”