More than a dozen specially-trained nurses work together to create Theda-Care’s Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) Program. The pilot program, supported by the ThedaCare Family of Foundations, was launched in 2016 to provide expert, compassionate care to victims of sexual assault, domestic abuse or child abuse while conducting medical forensic exams.
“We work with other agencies and organizations in the community to create a coordinated approach, specialized for each person we see, to provide care after an assault,” said Leah Eckhart RN, BSN, SANE Coordinator for ThedaCare. “This is a vulnerable time and we want to ensure their health and safety and provide all the support we can.”
According to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), “out of every 1,000 sexual assaults, 995 perpetrators will walk free”. We also know that victims are overwhelmingly women and girls: Eight in 10 juvenile and nine in 10 adult victims are female. In 2019, 93% of ThedaCare SANE patients were female.
“In every situation, we strive to put the person first, taking care of patients with dignity and respect,” said Eckhart. “The program offers unbiased, objective collection of evidence and information for victims of sexual assault, domestic violence, strangulation, child abuse and neglect and other crimes. Nurses follow appropriate forensic procedures to arm law enforcement with evidence if it becomes necessary for a court case.”
This work is delicate and, first and foremost, the SANE nurses are focused on caring for the patient, treating any physical injuries and promoting their mental well-being.
“Our nurses are many times the first contact for victims – the first resource they’ve utilized since their attack – and, working together with community advocates who are present during the exam for emotional support, they begin the healing process with the patient,” said Eckhart. “ThedaCare is determined to provide resources to empower healing for all involved.”
In addition to collecting evidence, the SANE Coordinator works to transition the patient to the care of community resources, connecting them to refuge or counseling for both the survivors and their families. They also work closely with local law enforcement agencies and the District Attorney’s office, to utilize a “victim-centered” approach.
Since the program began, cases have increased significantly every year, showing the importance of the program in the community.
Given the nature of this work, this type of care can, at times, be taxing on a caregiver.
“It is difficult to prepare a potential nurse for the things they’ll see and hear in this line of work,” said Eckhart. “The skills and care they provide are irreplaceable. Once trained, SANE nurses require ongoing education and the opportunity to complete exams to remain competent and confident within the field. It is extremely important that we invest in these team members while protecting their own health and wellbeing.”
In 2016, through cha-ritable contributions, Theda-Care Family of Foundations supported this work by funding a SANE Nurse Coordinator to provide these services to patients, built a SANE-trained team, and created a program that meets and exceeds best practice standards of the industry. The SANE Program at ThedaCare serves as a standout leader in forensic nursing care throughout the Fox Valley and the state of Wisconsin, acting as a model to others. In fact, the Wisconsin Department of Justice has awarded ThedaCare Regional Medical Center-Appleton the privilege of serving as a permanent host site for annual statewide SANE trainings. Nurses who attend these courses are considered “SANE trained”; nurses who further pursue certification must pass a written test, demonstrating the highest standards of forensic nursing practice.
“Wisconsin currently does not offer funding for SANE programs, making them specialized programs throughout the state,” said Courtney Weiland, Vice President of Philanthropy & Executive Director of ThedaCare Family of Foundations. “ThedaCare Family of Foundations works to partner with the community’s generous donors to ensure our patients have access to this critical care in their time of need.”
In spring 2020, ThedaCare Family of Foundations was awarded funding for the SANE Program from Kimberly-Clark to help support education costs for new nurses to become trained in both adult/adolescent and pediatric forensic examination, providing the foundation of skills needed to make sexual assault exams in our community possible.
“Kimberly-Clark is proud to be a funding sponsor for ThedaCare’s SANE Program in Wisconsin,” said Kim Underhill, Group President of Kimberly-Clark North America. “We hope that by providing this much needed service, patients affected by sexual assault can receive the best possible trauma-informed care. It takes an incredible amount of bravery to report an assault and this type of training can help make victims feel more empowered on their road to recovery.”
“We are honored to receive support from community leaders like Kimberly-Clark,” said Eckhart. “Additional funding allows us ensure training for our team to complete the exam as thoroughly as possible, obtaining evidence that could otherwise be lost as it degrades. For ThedaCare, success in this program is having increased capacity to serve these individuals in times of crisis. Having quality, expert medical care from highly trained nurses in an organized SANE program is vital to helping a victim recover. We want to make sure each victim receives care that helps restore their dignity and helps them begin the healing process.”
While the nation has been coping with the COVID-19 pandemic, hospital systems across the country have seen changes to care. Eckhart wants people to understand care is safe.
“Our patient’s health and safety are our top priorities,” she said. “We understand that people may be hesitant to seek necessary care. We want them to know that we are here for them, including if they need an exam after a sexual assault.”
Coming to the Emergency Department might look a little different. ThedaCare team members have gone to great lengths to make facilities safe so we can provide care for patients and families. Here are some precautions to expect:
Anyone who enters a ThedaCare facility will be required to wear a mask.
Patients will be asked to maintain six feet social distancing from all other patients.
Everyone will be asked a series of screening questions about any possible exposure to COVID-19 and if they have any symptoms – cough, fever, shortness of breath, loss of taste or smell or problems with vomiting or diarrhea. All will have their temperature checked; either via an ear probe or forehead scan, or in some cases, via an oral check.