Source: The News-Enterprise
An encounter with a patient not only spurred a desire for Sarah Tovar of Elizabethtown to learn to do more but also start the process of the Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner, program at Hardin Memorial Health.
She got into nursing to help others. But the first time she worked with a patient that was a victim of a sexual assault, she couldn’t get her out of her mind.
“At that time, we really didn’t have resources for that population and we didn’t have the specialized training that we have now,” she said.
Nurses gave victims the best care they could but not with the specialized training needed to work with sexual assault victims, she said.
“I left that morning and felt like I did not give her good care and couldn’t get her off my mind,” she said. “I couldn’t stop asking, ‘What could I have done better,’ and wanted to learn how to do better.”
She asked her supervisor, Sharon Wright, current vice president of Patient Care Services and chief nursing officer, if there was more training she could do. Wright didn’t hesitate and sent her to training.
Starting with just Tovar, the program now has 16 nurses and Tovar is the Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner manager. There is a SANE nurse on call 24 hours a day and will respond within an hour of getting the call, she said.
“I recall many meetings with her as she began the pursuit of improving sexual assault care,” Wright said. “Sarah is a skilled registered nurse with a passion for sexual assault patient care and advocacy.”
Along with patient care, Tovar also seeks grant funding and writes grant applications to increase resources for victims, she said.
“Her leadership has improved access to SANE care in our region, for one of the state’s busiest emergency departments,” Wright said. “Sarah collaborates with many community law enforcement and advocacy providers to ensure physical, spiritual, emotional and judicial needs are met for all victims.”
When the 43-year-old began her career she studied psychology and currently is in a psych practitioner program.
But she wanted to do more to help others.
She didn’t graduate from high school but a desire to help others and learn more, helped her continue in her education.
Tovar decided to go into nursing and started in the emergency room.
“I got to help people in their time of need,” she said adding the psych experience helped because the emotional and physical needs are related.
Now as a SANE nurse, she is a part of forensic nursing.
A forensic nurse collects evidence to preserve it and maintain the chain of custody and the evidence only goes to law enforcement if the patient wants to report the assault, she said.
She also documents injuries and testifies in court if needed. A patient’s forensic record is kept separate from their medical records to keep it private, she said.
Tovar is hoping to soon expand the program to include domestic and intimate parter violence and child abuse services.
Having a forensic nursing program not only helps the immediate needs of the patient but also helps with prosecuting someone charged with assault later on.
“Forensic nursing is twofold; we get to help the patients medically and emotionally to meet their needs while also collecting evidence that helps prosecution and law enforcement,” Tovar said. “I feel very fortunate to be in this position”
Tovar’s had many people ask if there really are enough patients to have a SANE program.
“I think the community is surprised by the prevalence of sexual assault,” she said. “Just in our community there was about 150-percent growth.”
That growth could be because of an increase in reporting and not an increase in assaults, she said. More than 70 percent of the victims do not report their assault, she said.
Nationwide, one in four women will have experienced sexual assault in their lifetime. In Kentucky, it’s one in two, she said.
Tovar also is part of the Sexual Assault Response Team made up of those involved in prosecution, law enforcement, social services, SANEs and advocacy through Silverleaf. They meet once a month and stay in contact.
“It’s about us communicating and knowing each other so we can give those services,” Tovar said.
The success of the SANE program is a result of the leadership and management of Tovar, said Jillian Carden, Silverleaf executive director.
“As a professional, Sarah is always ready to collaborate, problem-solve and consult on cases — no matter the time of day or night,” Carden said. “She is open to giving and receiving feedback between our agencies with the shared vision that our programs always have room to improve.”
She described Tovar as approachable and someone you want to be around.
“Sarah’s contribution to our community has both immediate and long-term impacts,” she said.
The immediate is agencies collaborating to provide services to victims of sexual violence.
“Although it may be difficult to gauge, I believe that the victims who receive services from a HMH SANE will have better outcomes because of the efficient process, team effort and joint goal to ensure that the victim has both voice and choice in their treatment,” Carden said.