Vitalité postpones sexual assault examiner training when not enough nurses sign up
3 nurses signed up for 64-hour course, but not in regions with highest staffing needs
A training course scheduled to begin next month to help address an ongoing shortage of sexual assault nurse examiners in New Brunswick has been postponed "due to insufficient participation," according to the Vitalité Health Network.
Three registered nurses signed up for the course, but none of them were in the Edmundston region, Zones 4, or the Campbellton region, Zone 5, "where the staffing need[s] are higher," said Sharon Smyth-Okana, senior vice-president of client programs and nursing.
"It is important to understand that delivering the 64-hours course requires a lot of resources and brings together many governments and community partners, such as victim services, law enforcement, forensic laboratory, prosecutors," she said in an emailed statement Monday.
Sexual assault nurse examiners provide forensic exams, which involve the collection of physical evidence that is admissible in court, medical exams and medications to prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, compassionate support, and resources for followup.
Last fall, sexual assault nurse examiner services in the province came under scrutiny after CBC News reported that a Fredericton rape victim was turned away from the emergency department at Horizon's Dr. Everett Chalmers Regional Hospital because no one trained to perform the exam — commonly referred to as a rape kit — was available on staff or on call until the next day.
The woman, 26, whom CBC is not naming, said she was instructed to go home overnight, not shower or change, and to use the bathroom as little as possible to help preserve any evidence.
Her case triggered a review by Horizon, and sweeping changes, including plans to hire full-time staff and co-ordinators, instead of relying largely on full-time nurses being on-call in addition to their regular duties. Horizon also announced plans to develop a provincial education strategy, form a provincial governance committee, and rebrand.
Horizon was unable to provide an update on Monday.
Unlike the Horizon Health Network, Vitalité does not intend to hire any full-time sexual assault nurse examiners, Smyth-Okana has said.
It has 16 active sexual assault nurse examiners, who work on call to provide the 24/7 service at seven hospitals across three zones, each covering a huge territory, travelling as needed to meet with victims of sexual violence and intimate partner violence. Three other trained nurses are on leave.
In 2015, Vitalité had 40 nurses trained in the service.
The current breakdown includes:
- Edmundston region, Zone 4: four active nurses (one on leave).
- Campbellton region, Zone 5: five active nurses (two on leave).
- Bathurst region, Zone 6: seven active nurses.
Although the Moncton region, Zone 1, is covered by Horizon, Vitalité also has one SANE nurse in the region to assist the Boreal Child and Youth Expertise Centre with youth victims of sexual violence in Dieppe, Smyth-Okana noted.
Telehealth options explored
"Our team strives to provide SANE care to patients in need," she said.
"We are currently looking at new ideas to support the program such as telehealth solutions."
Between April 1, 2022, and last Friday, 82 patients sought Vitalité SANE services. If that trend continues, the number could reach about 120 by the end of the 2022-23 fiscal year.
That's down from the 177 SANE patients served in 2021-22, from 214 in 2020-21 and from 182 in 2019-20.
"A management plan is in place to ensure that the patient receives timely support and care and maximize the options available to victims," said Smyth-Okana.
She did not elaborate, but she did say Vitalité continues to work toward training more sexual assault nurse examiners. The goal is to have eight active SANE nurses in each zone, she said.
Once a nurse gets trained and qualified as sexual assault nurse examiner, they need to complete 36 hours of continuous education a year to maintain competency.
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