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Clarion Hospital Launches Program for Victims of Sexual Assault to Better Serve Community
Clarion Hospital’s new Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) program was developed in collaboration with the Sexual Assault Forensic Examination Telehealth Center (SAFE-T Center) at Penn State University to create a locally-based sexual assault treatment team to better serve victims of sexual assault in our community.
“We are now bringing telemedicine technology to the Clarion community to make sure that when we do unfortunately have these cases, that we have all of the resources, all of the training, in addition to, via telemedicine, access to a forensic nurse examiner remotely 24/7,” Clarion Hospital CEO Steven Davis stated on Wednesday morning during the presentation of the new program.
The catalyst for a program to improve the response to sexual assault victim began when Davis was approached by then-District Attorney Mark Aaron and Assistant D.A. Drew Welsh about some of the problems with prosecuting cases in our area. Davis explained that Aaron told him about several previous sexual assault cases that couldn’t be prosecuted either due to lack of evidence or lack of proper collection of evidence.
“At that point, I said we’re going to make an institutional commitment to do this right and invest in this, and we’re going to work with our local law enforcement to make sure that we’re working together to be able to prosecute and bring people to justice,” Davis explained.
As it happened, the hospital had recently heard from the SAFE-T Center at Penn State University, and the hospital decided to look into the collaborative project and found it a good fit for their needs.
Sheridan Miyamoto, the director for the SAFE-T Center, agreed that Clarion Hospital was a match-up the SAFE-T Center was pleased with, as well.
“We spent a lot of time really thoughtfully choosing the right places to start these programs, and a lot of it had to do with when we first came to visit who was at the table and were people committed to making a real difference in this community, and that was loud and clear here,” Miyamoto said.
According to Miyamoto, the six nurses at Clarion Hospital that will make up the SANE team had to undergo 40 hours of regular training, two full days of hands-on training with models, and a full day of training on the equipment, just to get things started.
“This is really difficult work to do, and it’s wonderful to see that you have nurses here that are raising their hands to say they are going to come in, be trained, and really be a quality response for victims in the community. They have put in a tremendous amount of effort,” Miyamoto said.
Though the SAFE-T Center program is grant supported, Davis noted the grant money does not cover all of the costs of the local program. While it is something the hospital is committed to continuing, they are hoping for community support to continue to fund it.
This year, the local Fraternal Order of Eagles Aerie made a donation to help support and sustain the program, and they hope other community organizations will add to that support in the future, according to Davis.
The program itself has multiple parts.
The SAFE-T Center was launched with support from the Department of Justice Office for victims of crime to help enhance access to high quality sexual assault care in underserved communities. They offer their support to their partner hospitals through telehealth equipment that allows an expert nurse to appear on screen and interact with both the victim and the on-site nurse during an exam.
According to Miyamoto, the telehealth technology is encrypted for security and features advanced digital photo documentation capabilities, as well. It allows the local, on-site nurse to have the support and mentorship of a more experienced expert during exams to ensure everything from proper evidence collection and best practices to a helpful and supportive environment for the patient.
Miyamoto also had technology specialist Jon Essick demonstrate the equipment, which allowed Clinical Nurse Coordinator Faith Mong to join the launch remotely and talk a bit about how the programs works.
“What’s really great about this system is that someone like me can be in a secure location and not have to travel to the hospital, which reduces the amount of time the patients have to wait for care, at least on our side,” Mong said.
“The other interesting thing about the set up that Penn State has create here is that I have control of the camera that’s on the top of the cart, so it really does feel like I’m in the room with you. So, if there’s a patient in the room and I want to zoom in and see what kind of demeanor they’re having, I can get up close and personal and see if they’re having an emotional response to something that we’re doing or something that we’ve asked, as the local provider is doing 100 other things. We partner together to make sure the patient still feels included in what they’re receiving and what’s going on,” Mong continued.
That inclusion is particularly important to the program, Mong added.
During a part of the presentation, the floor was opened up to questions and comments from those in attendance. Senator Scott Hutchinson noted that he had concerns about those who might not feel comfortable with the telemedicine aspect of the program.
“Once you engage on screen, it’s so high-quality, I can see how that would be a wonderful tool,” Hutchinson said.
“But, to get somebody to allow your participation at a very difficult time, do you have problems with that?”
Miyamoto reported that so far, they have only had four cases out of 49 that have declined the services.
“I think they (the nurses) do a really good job of saying this is the very best possible care that we can deliver to you, that we do it, and then we talk about the security. And, we also can, if someone is unsure, say ‘I’d be happy to wheel the cart in, have a conversation with the nurse and see if it’s something you feel comfortable with.’ The other piece is, if at any point anything we’re doing makes you uncomfortable, we would stop,” Miyamoto said.
According to Mong, while they have had a few patients decline the services, the feedback they’ve received from the patients they have served has been very positive.
“It doesn’t allow all that awkward silence in the room, unless it’s therapeutic. With a nurse that’s doing 100 things they have to do, packaging up the evidence, trying to get the evidence fields set up, or setting up the equipment, the teleSANE on this side fills in those gaps and starts making that personal connection with the patient, telling them more about what they can expect at discharge, what they can expect the next steps in their line of care, and things like that.
“Ultimately, I truly perceive that the patient feels like I’m in the room with them by the end of their care.”
Mong also noted they’ve even had patients try to “hug” the telehealth cart, in place of the nurse off-site.
“I think that if you have the right person on this side, it can very much feel like we’re just another person making sure they get the quality of care they deserve.”
Representative Donna Oberlander stated that she wanted to say thank you to former District Attorney Mark Aaron, District Attorney Drew Welsh, and Davis for taking on the issue on our area.
“I’ve seen the big hole that is created in western PA where we don’t have this service. Is there an opportunity to create a mobile unit? Or, would those individuals be brought to Clarion to help kind of fill that void?” Oberlander asked.
According to Miyamoto, the Department of Health would like every hospital to have a response and are sometimes fining hospitals if they fail to mount a response.
“But, what I think that means is lots of hospitals have a really inadequate response, and people who are not trained.”
She noted that the law enforcement officers, who are now aware of these programs, are uniquely placed to offer victims an informed choice about where to go for care. She also stated that more regionalization and possibly even legislation to push for hospitals that are too small to have their own SANE team to utilize telemedicine to provide services could help the situation.
Marlene Austin, the Executive Director of PASSAGES, Inc., Clarion County’s sexual violence advocacy and prevention organization, also shared her perspective on the importance of the new program, and how the technology matters less than the interaction.
“I can tell you for the patients we have been with, as advocates, it (the technology) has just fallen away for them,” Austin said.
“I was actually in with a patient when they said to her (the teleSANE), when it was all finished, ‘I wish I could just give you a hug.’ I think the empathy that is shown by the SANE nurses and by the telehealth here, the least thing on their mind is feeling uncomfortable because they’re on a monitor.”
According to Austin, PASSAGES advocates have already been working with the SAFE-T Center program at Penn Highlands DuBois Hospital, and have found it a success.
“I’m thrilled that it’s now going to be a part of Clarion, as well.”
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