The Penn State College of Nursing’s Sexual Assault Forensic Examination Telehealth (SAFE-T) Center played a key role in a congressional briefing Nov. 27 to educate congressional staffers about efforts to improve access to health care for sexual assault victims.
Some of those barriers include a shortage of trained sexual assault nurse examiners (SANEs), especially in rural areas, due to factors such as burnout, inadequate pay, and a high turnover rate, said Kristina Rose, executive director of End Violence Against Women International, which coordinated the briefing.
“These barriers have consequences. Victims don’t get services (and) suffer in silence without support,” said Rose. “(But) there are extraordinary people doing extraordinary things to ensure that victims of sexual assault have access to the care they need, no matter who they are or where they live.”
The SAFE-T Center at Penn State was established in 2016 with funding from the U.S. Department of Justice, Office for Victims of Crime, to enhance compassionate, high-quality care for sexual assault victims in underserved Pennsylvania communities.
“When forensic examinations are conducted by a confident, trained examiner, it is the first step toward healing for the patient,” said SSRI co-funded faculty member Sheridan Miyamoto, assistant professor of nursing and principal investigator for the SAFE-T Center.
The SAFE-T Center model uses telehealth technology to connect less experienced nurses in underserved areas with an expert SANE — i.e., a “teleSANE.” Earlier this year, the center launched three hospital partner sites in DuBois, Huntingdon and Wellsboro.
“Our team has spent time planning and thoughtfully building key components to ensure this work is successful,” Miyamoto said. “We have determined how to provide expert care securely from a distance. Our lab is constantly refining our technology and systems so that we have a fiscally responsible solution with critical attention to privacy and security issues. We are clarifying costs and benefits and conducting rigorous program evaluation and research so we can demonstrate the value of this program to stakeholders who seek to solve issues of access, equity and retention of a skilled SANE workforce.
“Every person should have access to high-quality care, no matter where they live,” Miyamoto concluded. “We do not accept disparities in care for cancer or heart disease, and we should not accept it for victims of sexual assault.”
Other panelists included Joanne Archambault, founder and CEO of End Violence Against Women International; Joan Meunier-Sham, director of the Massachusetts Department of Public Health SANE Program and co-director of the National TeleNursing Center; Debra Holbrook, director of forensic nursing at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore, Maryland; Kristie M. Traver, co-director of the National Indian Country Clearinghouse on Sexual Assault SAFESTAR Alaska Office; and Jenifer Markowitz, founder of the International Association of Forensic Nurses, Forensic Healthcare Online.
The briefing was hosted by U.S. Sens. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, co-sponsors of Senate Bill 3203, the Survivors’ Access to Supportive Care Act (SASCA). SASCA was introduced in July 2018 to increase access to medical forensic sexual assault examinations and treatment provided by sexual assault forensic examiners by identifying and addressing barriers to obtaining those services.