SANE nurses trained especially to treat victims of sexual assault


From Staff Reports

   Involved in unthinkable circumstances, victims of sexual assault need a safe haven where caring professionals can provide medical services and emotional support that victims so desperately need.
   Mountain States Health Alliance's Johnson City Medical Center (JCMC) has put into place a service created especially for victims of sexual assault, headed by Dr. Clay Runnels, assistant medical director and director of the program, and two specially trained nurses. The SANE nurses - trained as Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners (SANE) - will oversee the care and direction of sexual assault patients.
   "We've been working on the program for about a year," Runnels said, "and it is a work in progress." He added that the complete SANE program "should be at an independent level of functioning," by July 1.
   The two JCMC team members who asked for the positions of SANE nurses are Kristy Carmody, RN, who's been in nursing for two years, and Christal Sheets, RN, who's been a nurse at JCMC for almost four years.
   Carmody and Sheets completed 100 hours of training in the SANE program, learning that "you can't put an age" on sexual assault, Carmody said. From child sexual abuse to senior citizens' abuse, it all fits into that category of "control and conquer, or the overpowering of another human being," Sheets said.
   Runnels said the nurses who were selected to be trained in the SANE program met certain criteria. "They must have had clinical experience and have demonstrated clinical knowledge," he said.
   Not only did Carmody and Sheets qualify, Carmody said she "went into nursing to go into forensics nursing," which uses as its focus sexual assault. Forensics also includes, she said, that the nurse who specializes in it is considered an expert witness in legal matters. Also, domestic violence victims, abused children, death investigations, elder abuse and elder sexual abuse are included in forensics nursing.
   Sheets said her interest in forensics nursing, and now the SANE program, deepened as she completed her SANE training that included evidence collection. "It's good knowing that what you've collected could make a difference," Sheets said. She added that serving as an expert witness, is an important part of the job as a SANE professional.
   SANE nurses provide the initial examination in the emergency room at JCMC. Busy ER doctors, who could get tied up in lengthy, traumatic cases that require their attention, will welcome the highly-trained, specialty nurses, Runnels said, because patients of sexual assault, should not have to wait through agonizing minutes until doctors can attend to them.
   With the course-certified SANE professionals on call, victims of sexual assault are examined without a lengthy wait and are given the benefit of excellent clinical skills as well as the time of nurse professionals. "This is an area (of medicine) in which professionals need to spend adequate time with patients," Runnels said.
   In addition to an initial exam, the SANE nurse coordinates the care for the patient; (by law) notifies the police; ensures that evidence is collected properly; interacts with the sexual assault response team; and sets up counseling at the Children's Advocacy centers or with social services' agencies, if needed. And, they schedule follow-up examinations and outpatient evaluations.
   In training, the SANE professionals also spent time in mock court, working out scenarios that might come about through their work with sexual assault victims. As expert witnesses, the SANE nurses expect to be called upon to testify.