Nova Scotia

South Shore SANE program hampered by recruitment troubles

It was hoped that the new Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner program would be up and running this fall, but few applicants have applied for the positions.

Few people have applied for new Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner positions

The new SANE program will be based at the South Shore Regional Hospital in Bridgewater. In the meantime, victims of sexual assault can go to any hospital in the province to get help. (Google Maps)

The expansion of a program that offers help to survivors of sexual assault on the South Shore has been hampered by difficulty recruiting nurses to do the work.

The Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) program provides medical and forensic examination, supportive care, collection and storage of forensic evidence and expert testimony in court.

The provincial government committed $700,000 in 2015 to extend the SANE program to Nova Scotia's southwestern area and Cape Breton. SANE teams with on-call, registered nurses were launched earlier this month in Yarmouth, N.S., and Sydney.

But recruitment efforts for a similar team based at the South Shore Regional Hospital in Bridgewater have not been successful, as very few applications have been received.

Susan Wilson, the Nova Scotia Health Authority's provincial SANE program co-ordinator, said that's likely because it's difficult work and a significant time commitment.

"It's an area of specialty and it's an area where recruitment is generally difficult everywhere, globally. Even in the Halifax area, recruitment is not as easy as one would think, even with the higher population of nurses," she said.

Number of trained nurses dwindled

A group of nurses on the South Shore received SANE training in 2015, but very few of them continue to provide the 24-hour, on-call service. The nurses are paid at their regular rate when they're called in to provide SANE services, but they aren't paid for the hours they are on call.

Under the expanded program, which will be managed by the Tri County Women's Centre, the nurses will be paid $5 per hour for each on-call shift and then $35 per hour while providing SANE services. They must be available for four 24-hour periods or eight 12-hour periods per month and must also attend monthly meetings and training sessions, as well as court dates as needed.

Since most nurses already work full or part time, it's a lot to ask, said Wilson.

"The nurses do this over and above their regular work, and it is a big time commitment. It's absolutely huge," she said.

'It's been a hard sell'

Julie Veinot, the executive director of the Sexual Health Centre Lunenburg County, said the new jobs have no benefits or pensions and the hours won't constitute full-time work.

Victims can go to any hospital in the province to have a sexual assault forensic examination kit done. (Teghan Beaudette/CBC)

Training requirements may also be a barrier to recruitment, she said.

"The cool thing about it previously was that it was done as part of their work in the hospital so they didn't have to take time off. Whereas under the new program, it's a whole different employer, so they'd have to basically take time off to go do the training," Veinot said.

Even nurses who previously received SANE training would need to take the eight days of training.

"To try to coax those same ones to give up their vacation time basically to go get retrained, it's been a hard sell," Veinot said.

SANE services still available

Wilson said she had hoped to have the South Shore team trained this fall and a second team in the Annapolis Valley in the spring, but now she doesn't know when the program will start.

"It just depends on recruitment.… If they had a dozen applicants tomorrow and they were well suited, then we could go ahead with training," she said.

In the meantime, SANE services are available from the few SANE nurses who are still on call on the South Shore, although they may not always be available to respond to calls.

Victims of sexual assault can also go to any hospital in the province and a doctor will be able to conduct an examination, including a sexual assault examination kit.

If no SANE nurse is immediately available on the South Shore and a victim specifically requests the help of a SANE nurse, the person may need to travel to Halifax or Yarmouth for services in person. Staff at hospitals can help co-ordinate transportation to those locations if needed.

A 24-hour phone line is also available to connect victims with an on-call SANE nurse.

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Frances Willick is a journalist with CBC Nova Scotia. Please contact her with feedback, story ideas or tips at