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Bill increases availability of sexual assault nurse examiner training

Harborview medical center is currently the only hospital in Washington State that provides training for nurses to become sexual assault nurse examiners, also known as SANE. A bill in this year’s state Legislature is aimed at taking down barriers to training, especially for those coming from rural and underserved areas.

The House Health Care & Wellness Committee held a virtual session on Jan. 10 to discuss HB 1621, that would establish a stipend program for nurses for them to complete a training course designed by the international association of forensic nurses.

“We try to figure out where the system was broken, how do we encourage those SANE nurses to come back in, because without a SANE nurse we can’t get to a prosecution.” said Rep. Gina Mosbrucker, R-Goldendale, a lead sponsor of the bill.

The program would help cover the cost of transportation, lodging and course fees. Alleviating these financial barriers helps nurses from rural areas cover costs and lost wages when receiving training.

Sexual assault nurse examiners are trained to specifically provide services to sexual assault survivors. Services include, but are not limited to, forensic examinations. According to Mosbrucker, most hospitals in Washington State don’t have a SANE nurse or have only one.

Spokane nurse Shawn Reed said when she began working in the emergency room, her initial training was limited to a one-hour session by an in-house educator. Reed believes the training she received was insufficient. “It did not allow me to truly understand the medical, legal, emotional or spiritual impact of sexual assault and the role of the forensic nurse in the emergency department.”

Erica Hallock, a representative of the Washington State Nurses Association, said the lack of trained sexual assault nurses, results in victims being told to go home and come back when a trained SANE is working. “This is not only traumatizing for victims, but this delay also compromises the ability to collect evidence,” Hallock said.

Forensic evidence is needed for cases to be prosecuted in the courts, and without a trained nurse to conduct exams the possibility of a successful prosecution is hindered.

Jacqueline True, vice president for rural health at the Washington State Hospital Association, said she believes “every survivor of sexual assault deserves access to trained and compassionate examiners, regardless of geography.”

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