Nova Scotia sexual assault help centres still waiting for promised funds
N.S. pledged to add sexual assault nurse examiners to Cape Breton and the South Shore services
Organizations that deliver sexual assault services in Nova Scotia are still waiting on provincial funding that was promised 10 months ago.
In April 2015, the government of Nova Scotia pledged $700,000 to expand Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) services to Cape Breton and the South Shore after a CBC Investigation revealed that proper sexual assault testing was lacking in many parts of the province.
As of late February, neither region had received any of that funding.
Bernadette MacDonald of Yarmouth's Tri-County Women's Centre says the delay is "frustrating."
"You really need the funding in order to ensure that the service is there on a 24/7 level," she said.
Women's organizations in Cape Breton also said the wait has been frustrating, especially given Health Minister Leo Glavine's promise to have the service up and running in Cape Breton by the fall of 2015.
Gaps in existing options
A SANE team is made up of nurses who are specially trained to respond to victims of sexual assault, including proper completion of rape kits. SANE services also store the results of that forensic examination until a victim feels ready to file a statement.
"To give that statement right away can be very difficult. So that SANE program provides that option. Victims have more choice when they're dealing with a sexual violation," MacDonald said.
The Tri-County Women's Centre is an organization that could be chosen to administer the program in southern Nova Scotia.
Having a coordinated response and the funding to deliver it is essential when providing consistent sexual assault services, MacDonald explained.
But as organizations wait for new services, there are still gaps in existing options.
Groups left with 'more angst'
In February, Kentville family physician Christa Mindrum organized a meeting at the Valley Regional Hospital to discuss the lack of sexual assault services in the area.
Standard practice for responding to sexual assault victims at the hospital is for staff to call a female family physician to perform the rape kit. Mindrum first became aware of the gaps in services when she attended training with a SANE nurse from Halifax in order to be one of those physicians.
"The meeting was meant to truly increase our confidence and reduce our anxiety, and we left feeling substantially more angst," she said.
"We recognized at that time that our performance of the kit was significantly substandard. The materials presented in the kit, the evidence to be collected, was significantly outdated and caused retraumatization to an already traumatized patient."
Since Kentville is included in the South Shore health district, sexual assault services in that community should improve once the province's promised funding is secured.
Mindrum said rather than wait for provincial funding, the Valley Regional Hospital has started on its own improvements, including a sexual assault cart with the proper equipment and an agreement with the local RCMP, who will look into storing evidence without pressing charges.
MacDonald said it's not enough to have individual hospitals making improvements. In order to ensure adequate services, the response needs to be consistent across the whole region.
'Frustrating, but we're close'
The Nova Scotia Health Authority — which formed a group with Department of Health and Wellness to work on the issue — said in a statement that they have neither specific plans nor recommendations in place for the possible extension of SANE services to Cape Breton and the South Shore.
The authority said it is, however, gathering information about the potential expansion.
Meanwhile, MacDonald said that organizations that work in this field are used to slow progress and that any improvements — even those that are months late — are very welcome.
"Services are going to be improved very soon across two major areas of the province and we're very pleased about that," she said. "It's frustrating, but we're close."