NC lawmakers seek to increase number of nurses to handle sexual assault

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BySamantha Kummerer WTVD logo
Friday, July 8, 2022
NC lawmakers seek to increase number of specialty-trained nurses
North Carolina lawmakers are seeking to increase the number of specialty-trained nurses that can be critical in delivering justice to sexual assault victims.

FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. (WTVD) -- Specialty-trained nurses can be critical in delivering justice to sexual assault victims. The problem is there is a shortage of them in North Carolina.

However, lawmakers are seeking to change that.

$1.5 million is currently allotted in the state budget this year for a program at Fayetteville State University to train sexual assault nurse examiners (SANE). '

"Even when someone has been sexually assaulted they live with that for years and years and years, we can change that on the front end just by having the right resources, the right support for those individuals who enter the emergency room setting," said Dr. Sheila Cannon, the associate dean of FSU School of Nursing.

These specialized nurses serve as critical components in helping sexual assault survivors find justice. SANEs are trained in providing compassionate care to individuals following their attack and trained in completing the extensive sexual assault exam that can be vital evidence in the prosecution.

"I can't even imagine what it's like for someone who has been sexually assaulted to not get the care that they need," Cannon said.

Cannon found there are only around 62 certified SANEs in North Carolina. In the southeast region of North Carolina only around 7 of the 18 counties have a certified nurse.

Monika Johnson-Hostler with the NC Coalition against Sexual Assault said the shortages are growing.

"We have hospitals who went from having nurses who were on call for forensic evidence collection to having none and survivors getting to the hospital and the hospital having to figure out who's going to collect the evidence," she said.

A lack of a SANE in a hospital leads to medical evidence potentially being compromised, longer wait time for victims and a lack of compassionate care.

"If they're not trained, they often just have to read the directions, which allows them to not necessarily give as much attention to the trauma that that survivor is currently experiencing," Johnson-Hostler said referring to the intensive and intrusive sexual assault kit nurses have to perform.

To solve this, Cannon is working to launch a pilot training program that she hopes can become permanent.

"It grew my passion for what was happening when the sexual assault victim entered the emergency room setting, and particularly the lack of SANE trained nurses to care for them," Cannon said. "The wait time that they had to experience, the lack of compassionate care, and almost like the retraumatization all over again."

The pilot program is slated to begin this fall depending on the funding. Cannon said it will be a holistic model that allows nurses an inexpensive option to get this specialized training.

Cannon said with the state funding the program would have the potential to train 40-60 nurses a year.

"There have still been so many calls from emergency room nurses from hospitals wanting to send their nurses to us already," she said.

This isn't the only initiative seeking to solve the shortages.

In April, Attorney General Josh Stein announced 50 SANE nurses would be trained in a program run by Southern Regional Area Health Education Center.

"These 50 SANE nurses will advance the cause of justice on behalf of victims and survivors of assault," Stein said at the time.

Johnson-Hostler said more nurses will still be needed and while this funding is a step in the right direction, there is more that needs to be done when it comes to supporting sexual assault survivors.

"It's extremely refreshing to see and hear lawmakers put their voice to this and their money behind it," she said. "My job is also to remind them that the medical exam is one part of this longer continuum of care that survivors need."

She said things like affordable access to therapy and legal care are some services she would like to see funded.

Another challenge is getting hospitals and nurses to make the commitment to complete the extensive and sometimes costly training.

The state budget still needs to be approved but Cannon said the program is ready once the money comes in.