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Nurses commit to new rape treatment center

Manatee County’s hospitals and a dedicated core of nurses are committed to improving the way victims of rape are treated here.

Thanks to the Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner program and the 16 registered nurses who graduated from its training, victims soon will avoid excruciatingly long waits in emergency rooms and inexperienced ER personnel handling potential evidence against perpetrators.

The SANE program stresses the meticulous collection of evidence while meeting the psychological needs of rape victims, most of whom are women.

“We really need to listen to what women who are assaulted tell us,” said Debbie Mann, a registered nurse and director of maternal child services at Manatee Memorial Hospital, who completed the training.

“And we need to know what we’re doing when we collect evidence.”

The sixteen nurses — they represent Manatee Memorial, Blake Medical Center, Lakewood Ranch Medical Center and Sarasota Memorial — will be on call to staff a SANE center when it opens at Manatee County’s Planned Parenthood office on 53rd Avenue East later this year.

That means rape victims 12 and older who arrive at ERs will be directed to the SANE center, where they will get a private room, individual care from a SANE nurse and compassionate counseling on everything from emergency contraception to sexually transmitted diseases to the procedure for pressing charges.

Too often, rape victims who did not have life-threatening injuries were forced to wait as ER staff treated more urgent cases, medical officials admitted. During the wait, victims are not allowed to eat, drink or urinate so that potential evidence may be preserved.

And general ER nurses weren’t always experienced in how to handle rape victims or the intrusive examinations.

According to studies, some victims reported feeling “re-raped” after receiving traditional medical care immediately after a rape.

“Over the past several years, all of these type of cases were handled in the emergency departments of the county’s hospitals, the issue being that it’s very difficult to establish a group of nurses that are very proficient,” said Tyler White, a registered nurse who is now the emergency department director at Blake Medical Center.

Cathy Wilson, who works at Manatee Glens’ Rape Crisis Center, led the effort for a SANE program as head of the county’s Sexual Assault Response Team, a consortium of officials from the counseling, law enforcement and medical communities.

“This is something that has been two or three years in the making. We have quite a few more sexual assaults than people think we do,” said Wilson, assistant director of outpatient services at Manatee Glens. “The biggest thing is that for victims it will create a different level of care they’ll be getting. It’s a victim-centered approach.”

Wilson said 82 rape examination kits were completed in 2009 in Manatee County.

The SANE training was held May 10 through 14 at Blake Medical Center. The Florida Council Against Sexual Violence conducted the 40-hour program.

“Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners are critical to the sexual assault response process,” said Jennifer Dritt, the council’s executive director. “Their expertise in collecting forensic evidence and providing medical treatment is vitally important to ensuring that victims continue on the road to recovery and that law enforcement and prosecutors are able to bring perpetrators to justice.”

The Suncoast Workforce Board awarded the SANE center $3,107 in federal workforce training funds, and that was matched by the Manatee-Sarasota Workforce Funders’ Collaborative. The money paid for the training, which cost $250 per nurse, and for the instructor to spend a week in Bradenton.

But there was still the matter of paying the nurses for time away from their regular jobs.

White said he mentioned the funding difficulty to Rose May, Blake’s chief nursing officer. “She said, ‘We need to make this happen,’ ” he said. Thanks to May’s efforts, the hospitals later agreed to pay the nurses’ salaries for the week.

White praised the hospitals’ management for their “altruistic” approach to the training. SANE nurses signed a commitment to the center, not their individual hospitals, which means they can continue to serve the center if they change jobs.

“The goal here wasn’t necessarily to improve the training profile of any one of the hospitals. It was to provide the much-needed resources to open a SANE center in Manatee County. That is rare,” White said.