Community unites to provide care for victims of sexual assault

April 30, 2015

SWMC5Sexual assault victims will soon have a higher level of care locally, as Southwest Medical Center has been collaborating with local agencies and resources to bring specialized training to registered nurses in the Liberal area.

“Southwest Medical Center’s values focus on providing high quality, respectful and accessible health care services to the people and neighbors of our community,” SWMC President and CEO, Bill Ermann, explained. “This specialized training will ensure that victims of sexual assault have access to quality crisis intervention, as well as a full range of indicated medical, forensic and coordinated support services.”

SWMC Emergency Department Director, Jandi Head, RN, explained that while care has always been provided to anyone coming in for emergency care, law enforcement currently transports sexual assault victims directly to Great Bend in Barton County due to a lack of nurses trained in sexual assault care and evidence collection in Southwest Kansas. Barton County is one of only 20 counties in Kansas to have a specialized program in place to provide comprehensive care for victims of sexual assault.

“The state of Kansas does not require nurses to be certified to perform sexual assault exams, but completing the training and certification greatly enhances the quality of care for victims, improves the quality of evidence collection, and potentially increases prosecution rates,” Head said. “Victims of sexual assault need and deserve a group of people to care for them that have knowledge and specialized training in performing these exams, as well as handling any other issues they may present with.”

This specific, specialized training program is known as SANE-SART, which stands for Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner-Sexual Assault Response Team. The response team is comprised of nurses, law enforcement, sexual assault victim advocates, prosecutors, and others who have been trained to work together in caring for the physical and emotional needs of victims of sexual assault. This team also handles evidence, investigates the crime, and prosecutes the offenders. Head added that through SANE-trained nurses, a sexual assault exam could be performed at Southwest Medical Center and not be reported to law enforcement if the victim wishes. Evidence from these cases would be securely saved for a period of time, and if a victim has chosen not to report the crime, the evidence would then be destroyed.

Together, Southwest Medical Center, the Liberal Area Rape Crisis and Domestic Violence Services (LARC/DVS) and the Liberal Police Department began working to research the training needs and associated costs of bringing SANE-trained nurses to the Liberal area. LARC/DVS executive director, Lori Hensley, explains that a community approach is crucial in having a SANE-SART program.

“In creating a Sexual Assault Response Team the important agencies are: Liberal Area Rape Crisis and Domestic Violence Services, Inc. advocates, Liberal Police Department, Seward County Sheriff’s Department, Seward County Attorney’s Office, Southwest Medical Center, Southwest Guidance Center, and Liberal/Seward County Fire/EMS departments,” Hensley said. “All of these agencies bring different skill sets to the healing process for sexual assault survivors. With assistance from these agencies, it allows a victim to begin the healing process as soon as it is reported.”

SANE Team Leader, Jessica Albers, RN, from Hays Medical Center describes the many processes which nurses learn during the SANE-SART training course.

“Registered Nurses who are interested in becoming a SANE-nurse take an initial 40 hour SANE-SART course, and complete a minimum of 40 hours of clinical training, some of which includes hands-on patient care for victims of assault, evidence collection techniques, and special equipment training,” Albers stated. “SANE’s are trained to provide high-quality, comprehensive medical care, be objective, maintain evidence chain of custody, know mandatory reporting requirements, and know how to testify in court.”

Albers further described the care process for sexual assault survivors, adding that patients treated by SANE-trained staff often report less anxiety, feel more secure alone, feel well informed, and have a sense of more control during an exam.

“During a SANE exam, the trained RN spends one-on-one time with the patient, allowing them to establish a rapport before beginning the medical-forensic examination. This exam includes taking a history of the assault, a head to toe assessment, photo-documentation of injuries, evidence collection, education and resources,” Albers said. “If the patient meets certain criteria, they can also receive medications to prevent sexually transmitted infections and pregnancy. If needed, the SANE may also collaborate with the ED Physician to ensure comprehensive medical care is provided.”

Detective Josh Olson of the Liberal Police department explained that SANE-SART programs are essential to creating a safe community, as the quick and accurate collection of forensic evidence by both law enforcement and the SANE-SART nurse is a key component in convicting sexual predators.

“When this program is available locally, we will be better able to provide care for victims not only in our community, but other communities in western Kansas that would otherwise have to travel to central Kansas just to receive this examination,” Olson said.” It will also increase the response to sexual assaults by preserving evidence that may be otherwise lost in the hours it takes to coordinate and travel to hospitals in other communities.”

Southwest Medical Center is currently creating policies, receiving quotes on equipment items, and will begin interviews soon to determine the appropriate registered nurses to include in the first training phase.

“Developing a SANE-SART program in the Liberal area will take many months,” SWMC Vice-President, Jo Harrison, RN, said. “Initially, five to six nurses working at Southwest Medical Center will attend a SANE-SART program training course. They will also receive additional skills training under the supervision of other SANE-SART providers.”

Community support for this initiative has proven strong so far. Hensley explained that local sororities, women’s clubs, and individuals have made financial contributions already towards assisting in SANE-SART training courses, equipment, and operational costs. An estimated $60,000 dollars in program funding will be needed initially, with ongoing program training and operation costs each year. A fund for SANE-SART has been established through LARC/DVS to benefit this program locally.

Head added that the community can continue support of this new program by spreading the word about how this training will assist sexual assault victims who seek care locally.

“According to RAINN (Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network), 68 percent of sexual assaults are not reported to police. We want people to know we are here for them,” Head explained, “So our hope is with providing this service, victims in our area know they are not alone, they can feel safe reporting, and know that Southwest Medical Center and supporting agencies will be able to provide them with respectful, knowledgeable care and assist them in their healing process.”