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Life & Work with Kimberly Hurst

Today we’d like to introduce you to Kimberly Hurst. 

Hi Kimberly, so excited to have you on the platform. So, before we get into questions about your work-life, maybe you can bring our readers up to speed on your story and how you got to where you are today?
I am a Certified Physician Assistant, working in Emergency Medicine with a special emphasis on sexual violence. When I was a PA student 20 yrs. ago, I had my first experience with a patient who had been sexually assaulted. There is no training in medical school/nursing school/PA school on how to provide care to a sexual assault patient. I had no idea what I was doing. My attending handed me a rape kit and said “this is your next patient”. I will never forget her. I didn’t even know how to open the kit, let alone examine her and collect evidence. I look back now and know what a huge disservice I was to her. She deserved better… SO much better. That patient encounter shaped how moved forward in, not only my medical practice but ultimately, my entire career. I too am a sexual assault survivor, having been assaulted by a physician in my early 20s while admitted inpatient at a hospital just a few years prior to that patient encounter. I did not report. I did not tell a soul. For many reasons, but mostly thanks to a society that has done an amazing job at victim-shaming/blaming and not believing survivors, I did not disclose my assault until over 20 yrs. later, despite being in this work for almost as long. Recognizing the huge healthcare disparities that marginalized and underserved communities face, it was not surprising that services available to sexual assault survivors in the City of Detroit were essentially non-existent. The need for comprehensive services that incorporate a trauma-informed approach and strengths-based philosophy was evident, and so in 2006, Avalon Healing Center opened its’ doors. We recently rebranded to Avalon Healing Center, having been the Wayne County Sexual Assault Forensic Examiner’s Program (WC SAFE) until 2020. Our mission to inspire healing and empowerment for those affected by sexual violence through free and immediate comprehensive services; promote public awareness, and advance social change. 

We provide 24/7 acute medical-forensic healthcare, as well as follow-up medical services post-assault; crisis response/intervention, individual / group counseling, personal and legal advocacy, expert witness testimony, community education & prevention, systems change / social change work, and policy/best practice work at the local/state and national levels From our first patient in January 2006, when we had $20,000 to start and a staff of 3 in one clinic location, we have grown to having a budget of almost $4M annually, a staff of over 30 with 6 clinic locations and a main administrative/counseling office ~ having served over 18,000 survivors of sexual assault in the Metro-Detroit region ~ my story is one of gratitude, hope, and inspiration. 

Alright, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall, and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
It has absolutely NOT been a smooth road. But then again, when is real change ever easy? Barriers and challenges are a daily part of doing this work. Between funding obstacles, space issues, staffing challenges, and just the involvement with daily trauma – patient after patient after patient – this work sees high rates of burnout, in a climate where it is already difficult to find qualified and dedicated staff. Vicarious trauma and societal rape culture make this work even more difficult, when pile a global pandemic on top of all that and you have the perfect storm of any kind of obstacle and challenge you can think of. 

All that being said, resilience is an amazing thing. If nothing else, these challenges have pushed us to think outside of the norms of how we can do this work. In navigating these struggles we have grown stronger as an organization, and have been able to identify even more needs and challenges for us to break down barriers for moving forward. 

Can you tell our readers more about what you do and what you think sets you apart from others?
If anyone had told me back when I was in PA school that I would be the founder and Executive Director of a sexual assault non-profit organization, I would have looked at that person like they had 10 heads! I am so proud to be have been involved at the ground level with Avalon and help it grow into the innovative and groundbreaking model of care that it has become. I have helped to build something that I can look at as a legacy to be proud of, my friends and family can be proud of and my staff can be proud of. 

Can you talk to us a bit about the role of luck?
If luck exists, then I have had the best luck in every aspect of my life. I need to acknowledge that much of what most people might consider to be luck; I recognize as privilege. I am a white, heterosexual woman and I realize that many doors were open to me because of the color of my skin and the ability of my family to provide me with support and an education which positioned me for success. 

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