Studies show one in every six women will experience a rape or attempted rape in her lifetime. If she ends up at Mercy Hospital Lebanon, a team of nurses will be waiting to help her find justice and peace of mind.
Jaime Dahm, RN, is one of three charge nurses who’ve joined the hospital’s Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) program. If it appears a patient has been sexually assaulted, Dahm or one of her colleagues is required to perform comprehensive and lengthy analysis with the victim’s blessing. “We immediately discuss the incident and then hone in on the injuries,” Dahm said. “If the patient is unconscious and it’s pretty obvious they’ve been abused, we’ll also start the process because every second matters.”
Nurses collect swabs of abused areas, look for bite marks or saliva, obtain hair samples and take necessary photos – all to be turned over to prosecutors if charges end up being filed. “We’ll also get blood and urine samples,” Dahm added, who says average exams can last between two and four hours. “I’ve even been with a patient once for six hours. It’s something we take very seriously.”
“These nurses immediately become that patient’s advocate, primary nurse and central contact point,” said Jodi Rhoads, emergency room manager and director of the SANE program. “That way, the victim isn’t exposed to multiple health care providers during this stressful time. We really don’t want the patient to have to re-live events more than is necessary.”
Evidence collected during the SANE exam never leaves the nurse’s sight. “Once we go into the room, we cannot leave the room until it’s done,” Dahm said. “When we finish up, the evidence sits on a desk in front of us and we sit with it until it’s handed over to authorities.”
Last year, 15 patients went through the SANE program. “But that doesn’t factor in the number of times a victim changed her mind or refused to press charges,” Rhoads said. A consent form must be signed by the victim, even if he or she is a minor.
“We’re definitely not going to judge anyone,” Dahm explained. “They haven’t done anything wrong. Mercy is a faith-based organization and we respond to patients in that matter. We support them in their needs, and urge patients to not be afraid to come in.” That’s because timing is critical. After 96 hours, the evidence is gone. “Victims can still file a complaint and we can do our examination, but there is no collection of evidence,” Dahm said. “There are no swabs – time is up.”
When appropriate, Mercy staff will also make referrals to COPE (Creating Opportunities for Personal Employment) in Lebanon, a victim’s advocacy center. “They can provide shelter for those patients who don’t have a safe place to go,” Rhoads said. “We have an advocate who comes to the hospital when they can. It’s all in an effort to comfort patients and get them moved ahead into the healing process.”
Nurses are required to renew SANE-1 certifications through continued courses; during that time, new recommendations and ideas for care are offered. To learn more about Mercy Hospital Lebanon’s SANE program, call (417) 533-6100.