McNeil says lack of treatment for Truro sexual assault victim unacceptable

Nova Scotia's premier says a hospital's decision to turn away a young sexual assault victim was unacceptable, and Stephen McNeil is now calling on the province's Health Department to determine who was responsible.

Premier says the Truro hospital should have had trained staff available

Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil said Friday that the lack of treatment for a sexual assault victim in Truro, N.S., is unacceptable. While Health Minister Randy Delorey would not commit to expanding the Sexual Health Nurse Examiner program to Truro last week, McNeil said Friday the service should be provided. (CBC )

Nova Scotia's premier says a hospital's decision to turn away a young sexual assault victim was unacceptable, and Stephen McNeil is now calling on the province's Health Department to determine who was responsible.

Responding to questions Friday in the provincial legislature, the Liberal premier said staff at the Colchester East Hants Health Centre in Truro were wrong to simply hand pamphlets to the woman and then turn her away.

"This is completely unacceptable — Nova Scotians looking for health care and being put on the street with pamphlets," he told the legislature.

"The trauma that was inflicted on this Nova Scotian should have been treated with the care that it deserved."

Interim Progressive Conservative Leader Karla MacFarlane asked the premier to explain why the hospital, located in Nova Scotia's third-largest community, isn't part of the Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner program, which offers forensic examinations and support services to sexual assault victims.

"She was not examined, she was not counselled and she was not cared for," MacFarlane told the legislature.

"On what could have been the worst night of this woman's life, she turned to the health-care system for help, and the system failed her."

McNeil said the sexual assault program is expanding and he agreed the Truro hospital should have had trained staff available.

"That service should be provided in Truro at that hospital," the premier said.

Nova Scotia currently has nine hospitals and community health-care centres that offer the program, which is slated for expansion this month to hospitals in Yarmouth and Cape Breton.

But there are no plans to offer the specialized sexual assault program in Truro.

"It's not included in this current expansion," Susan Wilson, provincial co-ordinator of the program, said in a recent interview.

The 22-year-old woman whose story was reported by the Truro News last month said she was not offered access to either a doctor or a nurse after arriving at the hospital's emergency department to report she had been raped.

"I just felt so lost," the woman told the newspaper. "It just felt like I wasn't their problem to deal with."

Her mother eventually took her to a hospital an hour's drive away in Antigonish, N.S., where she was examined by a nurse with the sexual assault program.

However, all hospitals in Nova Scotia have access to the forensic sexual assault examination kits by requesting one from police.

"In the absence of a SANE program, it's done by a physician usually with a nurse assisting and police would be there to obtain each piece of evidence once that's done and to instruct on how to collect the evidence," Wilson said.

Although she admitted that there continue to be gaps in the program and people can "fall through the cracks," Wilson said the province is "moving in the right direction."

Last week, Health Minister Randy Delorey would not commit to expanding the service to Truro when asked about the case. He said he wanted to wait for the results of an internal investigation.

A Nova Scotia Health Authority spokeswoman said the Department of Health and Wellness provided $700,000 in 2015-2016 to expand the sexual assault program to the province's eastern and western regions.

Carla Adams said in an email that "in considering expansion, we need to consider volumes to ensure maintenance of competency."

"Nova Scotia Health Authority would like to assure sexual assault survivors and others that no patient is turned away from an emergency department without assessment and treatment offered or provided," she said.

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