After nearly a year of advocacy for sexual assault victims, Utah Navajo Health System, Inc. is reporting that its efforts to create Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners (SANE) program and the Sexual Assault Response Team (SART) have been gaining ground.
According to Yikanee Sampson, RN, MSN, CDE, Director of Nursing/Clinic Manager for UNHS, the creation of the UNHS forensic nurses program has been a huge factor in working with sexual assault victims. She explained that protocols established for the forensic program have streamlined the process of helping these victims, beginning when they first arrive at the front desk, continuing to the actual examination and then explaining the services available to facilitate the healing and recovery process. With the help of UNHS Victim Advocates, the patient is given information about the resources available, county and state- wide, to navigate through follow-up and recovery efforts.
“They don’t even have to have an examination,” said forensic nurse and program manager Summer Ivins. “Sometimes all they need is someone to listen to them, someone who cares. Whatever it is they need or want, we’re here to help in any capacity they would like assistance with”.
Sampson said the victims who have been helped by the SART and SANE programs have been grateful. With the aid of grants from the Victims of Crime Assistance program, the sexual assault nursing program has been able to fully equip special carts for each UNHS clinic with supplies and medications needed to conduct a forensic examination, including comfort measures like shirts, sweatpants, underwear and robes. Often, the victims clothing and undergarments are bagged up and sent to the crime lab to be processed for evidence.
Kori Keylon, a Physician’s Assistant at the Montezuma Creek Clinic, has played a crucial role in the program, acting as medical supervisor for the forensic nurse examiners. She has been overseeing, and editing, protocols for victims’ medications. Kori also recommends other medications assault victims might require. Keylon was also specially trained by Utah Coalition against Sexual Assault (UCASA) to perform a forensic examination on both adults and pediatric patient’s.
Grant money has allowed the program to purchase cameras, including a colposcope with a camera, used to document injury from the assault, which will often be used in court as evidence. The forensic program also has access to statewide electronic medical records that can be shared with local law enforcement agencies that collaborate with forensic nurses and are part of a bigger, broader team of sexual assault response team (SART) members. However, Sampson and Ivins say they haven’t helped as many as they’d like.
“Maybe its because we’re in a small community and victims aren’t aware of these services, or they are embarrassed or ashamed to seek services because it is a small community” Sampson said. “We’re working on getting the word out. We’re even able to provide these services at Blue Mountain Hospital on the spot. We’re working to establish a hotline that victims can call to reach SANE nurses on their cell phones. SANE nurses will take turns being on call as a free service after hours. We’d love to see victims if they come to a clinic during regular hours, but if they can’t, this hotline can be a valuable service.”
However, it is not without its challenges. As it is now, forensic nurses are not paid to be on call, and often are unavailable after clinic hours. Funding is being sought to remedy this issue so that there is 24/7 live coverage in the county.
Another method the team is employing to spread the word about its work, and the availability of sexual assault nurses to assist sexual assault victims, is what UNHS calls a “teen conference”. These conferences, which are in their infancy, are an attempt to teach local youth about some of the subjects that are prohibited from being discussed at schools in Utah. Some subjects being contraception, sexually transmitted diseases and navigating the internet and social media in a safe and responsible way. The first of these conferences was held last spring and featured presenters from Colorado, the Navajo Nation (Medicine Men and other traditional pratitioners), and several local presenters and celebrities. Pete Sands, a local member of the Navajo Tribe who is an actor on the television program ‘Yellowstone’ spoke about missing and murdered indigenous people.
“We got a lot of feedback from the local community after that event,” Sampson reported. “Many parents came with their children and said they learned a lot of information they did not know about & that they weren’t being educated about in the public school system. We had a lot of talented presenters and we made it a fun event with raffles and other activities.”
The latest event was actually two events, one for boys in Montezuma Creek, and one for girls held in Blanding, last Friday. Both featured traditional Navajo teaching methods, meaning boys were taught by male presenters, while girls were taught by female presenters, according to Sampson.
Sampson says the next step is to make the community even more aware of the SART team’s work and the availability of forensic nurses so that more victims will come forth. In the past victims lacked the support they needed to report, prosecute and heal. But that has all changed in the last several years with the MeToo movement, and sexual assault has become a priority for law enforcement in the area.
There is also an effort underway to reach out to criminal prosecutors, who are willing to help prepare SANE nurses, who might be called upon to provide expert testimony in court. Sampson says this involves helping forensic nurses know how to answer questions and prepare them to testify in a criminal court case.
Ivins said she appreciates the support of UNHS and Blue Mountain Hospital in their assistance in making the programs possible. She said UNHS has been amazing in helping promote the programs and BMH has always stepped up and provided whatever support or services are needed to make sure sexual assault victims get the help they need.
UNHS has become even more active in its efforts to provide help for sexual assault victims and make sure that every victim has the opportunity to be examined, and have their case fully investigated if they so choose. The SART and forensic nursing programs at UNHS are making a difference, albeit slowly. With time, and more community education and awareness, the goal is to provide services to each victim that seeks them.
To find out more about the details of having a forensic exam done, or to report a sexual assault and obtain support and resources please call the advocacy hotline, which is anonymous if you choose, at 1-435-678-0249.