Boston Herald by Marie Szaniszlo
January 8, 2020

North Shore Medical Center in Salem next month will launch the region’s first program to connect sexual assault victims with nurses specially trained to both tend to their physical and emotional wounds, and collect evidence in time so that it can be admissible in the prosecution of their perpetrators if they choose to press charges.

The announcement was made Wednesday at a kickoff event at the hospital, where, beginning Feb. 3, off-site sexual assault nurse examiners will be available in real time to emergency department staff via secure, encrypted video conferencing to help care for adolescent and adult patients, complete forensic examinations and collect forensic evidence within the five-day window in which that evidence must be gathered.

“We know from doing this work, with respect to both children and adults, that the kind of immediate response they receive from the first people they encounter after making the disclosure can make a critical difference in how they survive and the success they have in the aftermath of an assault,” said Kate MacDougall, chief of the Family Crimes and Sexual Assault Unit at the Essex District Attorney’s Office.

When a sexual assault victim comes to an emergency room, few hospitals have nurses who are experts in evidence collection, said Sabrina Federico, executive director of NSMC’s emergency department.

“This is a vital service that’s been missing,” said Salem Mayor Kim Driscoll.

The state Department of Public Health has 20 TeleSANES, or sexual assault nurse examiners, based at Newton-Wellesley Hospital, who are available around the clock via teleconferencing to help guide other nurses, including 16 at NSMC who’ve been trained for the program, to ensure that patients have more comprehensive, supportive services, including access to emergency contraception and medication to reduce the risk of assault-related, sexually transmitted diseases.

“This is a really important message in this community, that you are saying, ‘We believe you. This is not your fault. We are here to help you heal whatever way is best for you,’ ” said Joan Meunier-Sham, director of DPH’s Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner Program.

Nationally, only 38 percent of sexual assault patients are estimated to report the crime to police, Meunier-Sham said. In Massachusetts, patients of hospitals with sexual assault nurse examiners report to police on average 60 percent, she said.

SANE and TeleSANE nurses undergo 48 hours of initial training, attend yearly training and participate in quality-assurance and peer-review activities, she said.

TeleSANE services currently are available at Martha’s Vineyard Hospital, Nantucket Cottage Hospital, Baystate Franklin Medical Center in Greenfield, MetroWest Medical Center in Framingham, St. Anne’s Hospital in Fall River and Good Samaritan Medical Center in Brockton. NSMC and Athol Hospital will launch TeleSANE next month, and Beverly Hospital and and Sturdy Memorial Hospital in Attleboro will launch services in the spring. In-person SANE services are available at 29 hospitals across the state.

“TeleSANE is a promising use of advanced technology to help ensure trauma-informed and victim-centered responses and care reach people who experience sexual trauma but do not live near a hospital with an in-house SANE program,” said Toni Troop, a spokeswoman for the victims’ advocacy group Jane Doe Inc.