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Ten years ago, survivors of sexual assault who visited Carolinas HealthCare System emergency rooms would often wait for hours to receive care. And some providers didn’t know how to properly collect the necessary evidence.

But thanks to the work of nurses and hospital leadership at Carolinas Medical Center, that’s no longer the case. Together, the group launched an effort to improve the level of care sexual assault survivors receive. The result: the Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) program.

Today, the SANE program exists at nearly all Carolinas HealthCare System hospitals in the Charlotte region, and leaders are working to expand the program to other locations.

Before and After

“We all knew we needed to do better, so we found a training program and received a grant to cover initial costs,” says Angie Alexander, MSN, RN, coordinator of the forensic program at Carolinas Medical Center.

These days, the experience of sexual assault survivors in emergency departments is much different.

When a survivor arrives at the emergency department, they get triaged and moved into a treatment room as quickly as possible. Then, an on-call SANE nurse steps in to provide expert care, collect evidence and connect patients with community resources, such as sexual abuse counseling. The nurse also follows up with them a few days later to make sure they aren’t having problems with medications, or to address other needs.

Additionally, the SANE exams are paid for by the NC Crime Victims Compensation Fund so the patient’s treatment, and the collection of evidence, is free.

“Before this program was created, survivors stayed a very long time, they were seen by nurses who weren’t sure what to do, and they didn’t get the one-on-one care they deserved,” says SANE Nurse Katisha Seward, BSN, RN, CEN. “We wanted to change that and assist these women through a difficult time by making it as simple as possible.”

Hardworking, Highly Trained

SANE nurses, who undergo extensive training, are on call for two 12-hour shifts each month, in addition to their other duties within Carolinas HealthCare System. SANE nurses also sometimes testify in court.

Alexander has testified in many cases, two of which recently resulted in convictions. Over the past 10 years, Carolinas HealthCare System’s SANE program in Mecklenburg County has provided services to nearly 2,000 patients.

“It’s a big commitment,” says Alexander. “It requires 40 hours of classroom training, nine months of clinical training including law enforcement ride-alongs, meeting with rape crisis counselors and witnessing courtroom testimony.”

The program also benefits other members of the emergency department team. By having dedicated SANE nurses to provide care to sexual assault survivors, the rest of the team can better care for other patients.

“It’s hard work – emotionally especially – but these patients need help,” says SANE nurse Leah Ledford, MSN, RNC-OB. “I feel like I make a difference for these patients, but couldn’t do it without the support, guidance and friendship that I get from the team.”