The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Local News

April 18, 2010

Nurses train to care for sex-assault victims

JOHNSTOWN — Approximately 20 registered nurses soon will begin studies and training to become sexual assault nurse examiners under a new victims-centered program which not only focuses on the latest forensic techniques but also allows the victims to remain anonymous while deciding whether to go to the police.

The program is being developed through a $79,450 federal grant in a cooperative effort by the Cambria County district attorney’s office,  Memorial Medical Center, Victim Services, Women’s Help Center and local law-enforcement departments.

Once the volunteer nurses complete the educational requirements – a

40-hour online course through Duquesne University starting in July – and follow-up practicum, a pool of the SANE examiners will be available to be called when a victim of a sexual assault or rape goes to the emergency room, Dr. Dan Wehner, chairman of Memorial’s emergency medicine department, said.

The SANE nurses also will be on-call for Miners Medical Center and Windber Medical Center.

The nurses, instead of doctors, will be doing the forensic exam and evidence collection although the doctors will handle any medical requirements for the victim/patients, Wehner said.

The nurse-examiners will remain with the victim rather than one of the on-duty nurses attempting to give care to the sexual assault victim while also caring for other patients, the doctor said.

The program is gearing up as local officials and agencies observe April as sexual awareness month to “shed light on a horrifying crime that most often goes unnoticed and unreported,” Ellen Springer, program development director, said.

The program gives victims “a safety net” of time for rape and other sexual assault victims  to remain anonymous  – up to 90 days – while deciding whether to go to the police to report the crime, District Attorney Kelly Callihan said.

She said that the nurse-examiners will be able “to meet the special concerns of this type of victim. They will be better able to explain and detail every step of the exam and why it is being done. And they will have training in protecting the evidence, the chain of custody, so that mistakes are not made and will result in better prosecutions.”

Wehner, who said that he was surprised that so many nurses have volunteered for the program, added, “Nurses tend to be giving kinds of people and want to give back to their community and help as much as they can. It’s not the money or the training, but caring for others.”

The nurse-examiners will be paid a stipend when called out for the exams, officials said. The first SANE-trained nurses should be ready by the end of the year for the project, Wehner said.


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