Mercy has joined with three advocacy organizations to establish a coordinated approach to training and supporting sexual assault nurse examiners in Northwest Arkansas. These nurses play a vital role in ensuring victims’ proper medical care and preserving evidence for prosecution, among many duties.
One of the first steps was hiring a regional coordinator, Dawn Thompson, an advanced practice nurse with nearly two decades of experience as a nurse, sexual assault nurse examiner and nurse educator. Thompson’s responsibilities include working with health care organizations to establish protocols for treating victims that present to clinics and hospitals. In addition, she will train nurses and coordinate scheduling for on-call sexual assault nurse examiners for the three organizations: Northwest Arkansas Center for Sexual Assault, Children’s Safety Center of Washington County and Children’s Advocacy Center of Benton County.
“This collaborative effort is the first of its kind in our state, and arguably across the nation, where agencies are coming together to put aside our own needs and take action to meet a community need,” said Natalie Tibbs, executive director of the Child Advocacy Center of Benton County. “This position will coordinate a highly professional and effective response to victims of sexual assault of all ages for the Northwest Arkansas community.”
Some nurses across the state are certified to provide sexual assault examinations, but there aren’t always successors if a nurse leaves the area or profession, Tibbs said.
“This position will not only assist the immediate need for quality healthcare professionals, but will help create sustainability in the field for our area,” she said.
Elizabeth Shackelford, executive director of the Children’s Safety Center of Washington County, said Thompson’s leadership will allow child victims of abuse to receive the best medical care, as well as make sure the agencies’ medical programs continue to meet accreditation standards.
“Dawn’s enthusiasm for educating and training medical personnel will only encourage more nurses to be certified as sexual assault nurse examiners, enabling more children and adults to receive proper medical care after they have experienced abuse,” she said.
The four organizations began discussing the possibility of a coordinated response about two years ago. Mercy and the advocacy organizations are sharing costs, which include Thompson’s salary and benefits, office space and operational expenses.
While Thompson is a Mercy employee, the nurse examiners she trains and manages will contract with their respective advocacy organization.
The collaboration was a natural fit for Mercy, said Chad Raith, vice president of mission for Mercy Northwest Arkansas.
“Mercy jumped at the opportunity to join this effort because caring for women and children has always been at the heart of Mercy, from the days of our founding by Catherine McAuley until today,” Raith said.
Anne Shelley, executive director for the Northwest Arkansas Center for Sexual Assault, praised Mercy for seeking to help resolve a problem for the greater good.
“Our SANE coordinator collaboration is the embodiment of Mercy’s servant mission —encompassing healing, compassionate care and exceptional service in addressing the gap in quality care for those who most people want to dismiss or ignore, due to the nature of their victimization,” she said. “Mercy has shined a much-needed healing light onto a necessary service that brings compassion and comfort to those most in need.”
Thompson began work June 4 at Mercy. She said she is excited and humbled to begin this endeavor.
“It’s been a vision in Northwest Arkansas for quite some time to strengthen these organizations as well as provide access to quality care after an experience of personal trauma for the residents,” she said. “Ideally this model will be duplicated across the state and potentially throughout the Mercy system as an example of overcoming program isolation and providing a sustainable model of care.”