By Emma KennedyThe $110,000 grant from the Kentucky Justice and Public Safety Cabinet will allow Hardin Memorial Hospital’s Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner program to train more nurses.
Currently, the program has eight certified nurses, according to HMH’s program founder Sarah Tovar. The goal to adequately cover the need would be 18.
A SANE nurse acts as a specialized examiner when a patient reports a sexual assault in the emergency department or when the patient has reported to police and requires a physical exam.
Having a specialized nurse means they know the protocols for collecting evidence, storing it and testifying in court, if needed.
They also stay with the patient the entire time they’re examined and interviewed and help to counsel the patient through the experience, not just the physical elements, Tovar said.
HMH started the SANE program in 2012 and has continued to expand as has the need, Tovar said.
As of October, HMH had completed 30 SANE assessments — an increase over 2015.
“When we see an increase in numbers, though, I think we’re also seeing an increase in reporting due to increased community education,” she said.
For the most valuable results, a sexual assault exam needs to be completed within 96 hours of the incident. At the hospital an exam can be done on a patient 14 years old or older.
There are times when a victim isn’t ready to file charges, but Tovar said it’s useful to complete the exam within that initial window anyway since police and the hospital have the capability to store the test up to a year after completing it.
Commonwealth’s Attorney Shane Young said in his experience, it’s always easier to prosecute someone when there’s evidence such as a sexual assault exam.
“It’s a hard thing for them to do,” he said. “It’s hard not only to tell someone you’ve been a victim … but it’s also a pretty intrusive exam. But having someone who’s trained to deal with that individual and has good bedside manner, that helps.”
Young said outside of forensic results, SANE nurses also have helped in testifying as to the emotional distress and impact an assault has on a victim.
“Sometimes (the victim) doesn’t always want to cooperate, sometimes there’s not any visible signs because a lot of it is emotional,” Young said. “They know exactly what we need … they know the chain of custody and how to collect that evidence. They bring a level of professionalism that we need in order to make cases in court.”
Joe Prather, HMH foundation chairman, said securing the grant had been increasingly important, especially given the hospital’s emergency department expansion.
The new facility will have two sexual assault-specific rooms, which allow for privacy and segregation for victims away from the regular emergency department setting.
It also will have a shower for victims to use following the exam, Tovar said.
“(The funding) will go where it’s needed, to better train people in order to carry this program out, and it’s going to set Hardin Memorial aside,” Prather said.
Tovar said as well as the eight SANE-certified nurses on staff now, three are in the process of certification.
That process involved a 40-hour classroom-based model, as well as a 60-hour clinical requirement made up of examinations and working with other agencies.
Bringing the certification number to the goal of 18 nurses would mean it’s possible a SANE-certified staff member is on shift at all times.
Emma Kennedy can be reached at 270-505-1746 or email@example.com.