Sexual assault rates are higher in rural areas of Pennsylvania than in urban areas, yet many rural hospitals don’t have the resources to provide high-quality sexual assault care.
A $2.4 million grant from the Pennsylvania Commission On Crime And Delinquency will expand the efforts of Penn State’s Sexual Assault Forensic Examination Telehealth (SAFE-T) Center to provide expert consultation and training to nurses who provide care to sexual assault victims. This funding aims to improve the quality of care and to ensure the SAFE-T Center model is available wherever there is need.
Launched in 2016 with funding from the U.S. Department of Justice, Office for Victims of Crime, the SAFE-T Center works to enhance access to high-quality, sexual-assault care for those who need the most help – assault victims - in underserved communities.
“The new funding will allow us to expand the SAFE-T Center project to four additional hospital partners that have a deficit in sexual assault nurse examiners (SANEs),” said Sheridan Miyamoto, assistant professor of nursing and director of the SAFE-T Center.
New partners sites include Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center, UPMC Susquehanna Lock Haven, and Guthrie Robert Packer Hospital, with a fourth hospital site yet to be determined. With the project expansion, SAFE-T Center will be partnering with eight hospitals geographically dispersed across Pennsylvania, primarily in rural areas.
According to Miyamoto, many rural communities face challenges such as poverty, unemployment, geographic isolation, and other stressors that can contribute to higher levels of assault. “The partner hospitals we selected for this program were chosen because victims of sexual assault in these communities do not always have access to expert care.”
Through the SAFE-T Center’s specialized digital telehealth technology, SANEs can see the live exam in progress, helping to ensure best practices and proper evidence collection. “Sexual assault exams can be technically and emotionally difficult, and staff who perform them may be difficult to retain,” Miyamoto said. “The SAFE-T Center offers quality assurance, peer support, mentorship and on-demand training to help nurses feel confident that they are doing a good job.”
Results from the initial partner sites show the project is making an impact and creating a culture supportive of nurses, leading to higher retention rates and increased job satisfaction. “Additionally, patients remark on the high level of care they receive, and that the worries they had coming into the exam, such as being judged or having their story believed, were alleviated,” said Miyamoto.
Community advocates, including law enforcement agencies and district attorney offices, also see the benefits of the SAFE-T Center, reporting patients are increasingly connecting to community services for after assault care.
“The expansion of the SAFE-T Center project holds promise to be the solution of how to care for sexual assault victims across the state. It is our hope the model continues to be supported into the future,” said Miyamoto.
Other co-principal investigators from Penn State are Lorna Dorn, professor of nursing; Daniel Perkins, founder and principal scientist of Clearinghouse for Military Family Readiness and professor of youth and family resiliency and policy; Dennis Scanlon, distinguished professor of health policy and administration and director of the Center for Health Care and Policy Research; and Diane Berish, assistant research professor of nursing.
Additional support for the SAFE-T Center is being provided by the Clinical and Translational Science Institute and the Child Malreatment Solutions Network, both at Penn State.