Edna "Patty" Hernandez was always smiling and cheerful as she floated throughout different departments cleaning rooms and hallways at the 700-bed Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center in Spokane, Washington.
"She was very, very beloved to the point that a manager told me that he would get requests from units: 'Can't Patty just stay with us?'" said Susan Stacey, chief executive for the Providence Inland Northwest Washington service area, part of Providence
St. Joseph Health.
On the morning of April 3, 2019, Hernandez didn't show up for work, unusual for her since she always came in early eating her breakfast, usually a donut, said her supervisor, Ed Kelly. Concerned, Kelly asked police to check on her. Spokane police found
Hernandez fatally stabbed in her apartment. Her boyfriend later pleaded guilty to a murder charge in her death.
Hernandez's death shocked her colleagues throughout the hospital system. They wanted to do something to keep another family, hospital or business from enduring a similar tragedy. Providence connected with the Spokane Regional Domestic Violence Coalition
and offered funding to create a toolkit that could help businesses and nonprofits across the region address the growing public health crisis.
'We needed to do something'
In May, the coalition rolled out the Domestic Violence Toolkit, an online workplace training program designed
to help businesses and nonprofits recognize the signs of domestic violence in their employees and volunteers and learn how to respond. Providence contributed $250,000 to produce the site and its contents. The training was developed with additional
community partners, including the YWCA in Spokane.
"I think individuals care a lot," said Stacey. "We all understand mandatory reporting. But we needed to do something clear and compelling to say that this is not just a community issue, but this is a business issue as well as a mission issue. How do we
support other businesses?"
The Society for Human Resource Management reports that 65% of companies do not have
a formal workplace domestic violence prevention policy and 80% do not offer training on domestic violence. This concerns Providence leaders, since the society says 21% of full-time employed adults reported they were victims of domestic violence, with
74% of that group saying they have been harassed at work.
An employee or co-worker experiencing domestic violence at home might have trouble concentrating at work, often arrive late, miss work more frequently than others, and be less productive, the toolkit points out.
Spokane County has the highest rate of domestic violence in Washington, based on a 2019 study. One in every three women and one in every 10 men are victims
of domestic violence in the Spokane region, according to the Spokane Regional Domestic Violence Coalition.
Taffy Hunter, the education and outreach coordinator for the coalition, oversaw the development and release of the toolkit and speaks in some of the video clips. She is also a domestic violence survivor. She says domestic violence in Spokane is complicated
and connected to community stressors such as poor mental health, food insecurity and homelessness.
"Across the board, our community is suffering," Hunter said.
The coalition has existed in some form since the early 1990s. Providence was a founding funder, and the coalition is made up of law enforcement, social services, health and other groups. Since each handles a piece of the domestic violence issue, the hospital
and coalition already had expertise available to help write a script and put together the toolkit.
Elements of the toolkit
Three 15-minute modules of the toolkit are designed for employees. The modules cover what domestic violence is, how to recognize that a colleague may be experiencing it, how to talk to them about it, and where
to go for more help.
Three more 15-minute modules are for human resource professionals. The modules cover how to direct employees for support, how to increase safety in the workplace, and how to set up a domestic violence prevention policy. Some of the topics refer specifically
to Washington state laws, but the program can be adapted for other states.
The modules are made up of short video clips, talking points and graphics of information, simple quizzes and interactive questions, and even yoga breaks.
"Some of this content may be upsetting. Please take care of yourself, and feel free to take a break if needed," host Audrey Overstreet tells users in the introduction.
The toolkit also includes information for perpetrators to get help.
Making a difference
As the collaborators publicize the program, they have heard one main reaction from people running businesses, said Stacey: "Wow, I didn't know I needed to think about this, and I really do." She said that building
awareness is a first step for small and medium-sized businesses.
Hunter said organizers already have heard from businesses that accessed the toolkit because an employee had disclosed abuse. "That means so much to me," said Hunter, her voice cracking with emotion.
The employers used advice from the toolkit to access resources and talk through the issue with the employee in a nonjudgmental, trauma-informed way. "So immediately, boots on the ground, people are accessing the toolkit, making a difference in the individual's
life. And we're really, really excited about it," said Hunter.
She said that local chambers of commerce and business coalitions have requested presentations from the coalition on the toolkit. Organizers are looking for more funds to cover the costs of in-person training and also will provide consultation to those
who want to build their own workplace policy.
Rumors and rumblings
Hernandez's supervisor, Kelly, spoke to the media and his colleagues at the toolkit announcement. "I could always tell when Patty was in the break room," he said. "The noise was different. It was lively. It was
He described the gut-wrenching morning when Hernandez didn't show up for work, and when he and another supervisor got the news from police that she had been murdered.
They had heard "rumors and rumblings" about troubles with her boyfriend, but nothing specific, he said. They had asked her if everything was OK. "She would always say yes, with her beautiful smile," Kelly said.
He implored others to pay attention to their co-workers, to get involved if things just don't feel right.
"We often look back on that situation and think, What could we have done differently to get Patty out of that situation, to get her help?" he said. "We still don't have that answer. The answer isn't always obvious.
"I hope that none of you will have to go through what we did. ... However, if you do, I hope with the launch of this toolkit, you will be able to help your employees, your friends, your family, your co-workers, your neighbors," he said.
The Domestic Violence Toolkit can be accessed online at endtheviolencespokane.org/toolkit.