Source: The News-Enterprise
If you happened to be walking the halls of Hardin Memorial Hospital last month, you might have seen nurses wearing blue ribbons on their uniforms.
April was Sexual Assault Awareness Month and HMH nurses were showing their support for the cause as assaults have risen nationwide.
According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, one in five women and one in 71 men will be raped at some point in their lives, and one in four girls and one in six boys will be sexually abused before they turn 18.
The statistics are why HMH is increasing its support and care for sexual assault victims.
One of the ways is through the hospital’s Sexual Assault Nursing Examiner program, or SANE.
The program enables nurses to become SANE-certified, meaning they receive specialized education and training in the forensic care of sexual assault patients.
“We’ve been building the program since 2013,” said Sarah Tovar, SANE nurse and coordinator for the program at HMH. “At the end of that year, we had one SANE nurse on call. We currently have nine at the hospital now.”
SANE nurses are registered nurses and often have other responsibilities at the hospital, Tovar said.
“You have to have 100 hours of class and clinical time to get your certification,” Tovar said. “The nurse is trained to collect any forensic evidence, do forensic photography, be there for the patient emotionally and give the patient one-on-one care. The SANE nurse is only caring for that patient. Before, you were just a staff nurse caring for that patient and other ones, so you were in and out of the room. Now that patient is the SANE nurse’s only focus.”
HMH is one of only a handful of hospitals in the state to offer the program, Tovar said.
Specialized patient care is the program’s No. 1 priority and benefit.
“Before, a sexual assault patient would come in and be treated like any other patient,” Tovar said. “But with the initiation of the program, those patients become severity level two and go straight back to get care from the SANE nurse.”
Specialized care includes the use of a private room, which were integrated into the hospital’s new emergency room expansion.
Sexual assault treatment rooms have solid doors to provide greater privacy and access to a private bathroom.
“After the exam, the first thing a patient wants to do is take a shower. Prior to the new rooms, a patient would have to go out of the room, walk down the hall, clean up and come back,” Tovar said. “Now there’s none of that. The rooms are also designed with the beds facing away from the door, so if someone were to walk in during the exam, the patient would be facing the other way. And all the equipment is already in there, which keeps nurses from having to leave.”
April Srygler, a registered nurse at HMH, said working as a SANE nurse makes her proud.
“I’m extremely proud to work in this program,” Srygler said. “It makes me feel safe for my friends, family and community that we offer this now. I know hands-on this is a better process than what we offered 15 years ago. I think it’s well-deserved for the survivors.”
As a part of the program, SANE nurses also work closely with the Sexual Assault Response Team, a group of local organizations that coordinate care, support, advocacy, police response and prosecution after a sexual assault has occurred.
The team first met in June 2016 and now has more than 35 local members. The meetings are hosted by the Elizabethtown Police Department.
It’s the first in HMH’s 10-county service area, but the group is looking to expand to include other counties.
A $110,000 Victims of Crime Act grant given to Hardin Memorial Health Foundation by the Kentucky Justice and Public Safety Cabinet, has helped the program flourish even more, Tovar said.
“The foundation worked with me side by side for weeks to get (the grant),” Tovar said. “We can buy equipment with it. It allows us to do community awareness and fund the education for current SANE and the upcoming SANE. It all comes back to helping the survivors.”
Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Teresa Logsdon said the SANE program has helped the prosecution in sexual assault cases.
“It’s absolutely beneficial to both law enforcement and prosecution for evidence collection,” Logsdon said. “More nurses with more training means there is more consistency in the service. And because HMH has more SANE nurses on staff, they can basically provide services 24 hours a day.”
Logsdon said sometimes SANE nurses are called to testify in court.
“If they collect any evidence, whether internal or external, they have to be called in,” Logsdon said. “They have to testify personally and the nurses at HMH are always willing to do that.”
Logsdon said she hopes knowledge of the program will help ease possible fears people have about coming forward in sexual assault situations.
“Unfortunately, a lot of people don’t know it exists until they are in the situation,” Logsdon said. “But the nurses are really competent and compassionate at HMH. They really care about the person. They are willing to meet all the needs medically and emotionally. HMH is dedicated to this cause.”
Ryan Alves can be reached at 270-505-1746 or at email@example.com.