Survivor shocked, saddened by Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner Program staffing challenges

A sexual assault survivor who got care at Health Sciences Centre’s Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) program is shocked and saddened to see its staffing challenges unfold.

Seven casual nurses with the program quit this week after working through long-standing shortages that forced some patients to return later for examination and treatment.

Aside from collecting evidence, this Winnipeg woman says SANE gave her the support she needed at a critical moment in her life. Without it, she says she could have fallen through the cracks.

“The nurses and the people that supported me in the SANE program on that day were pivotal, and I think when I look back at my life, it was a moment that I could have sort of stumbled.”

Global News isn’t identifying her because she’s a victim of sexual assault. She says she was referred to SANE in 2017.

“The most poignant memory that I have from the day is when they, the triage nurse at HSC asked me, ‘Who’s your emergency contact?’” she said.

“I have a lot of family and a lot of friends and a really healthy social network, and I didn’t feel like there was anyone I could tell or that there was anyone that I would want to be called, so I said I didn’t have one, and so I was very alone, and they took really good care of me.”

SANE’s qualified nursing shortages are deeply concerning to her, she said.

“For them to walk off the job, something has to be really, really wrong, and I feel like I owe it to them to speak up about the good work that they were doing.”

She worries how the position reclassifications and vacancies will impact survivors seeking care.

“This is all just putting women and girls like just lower, lower, lower on the priority list.”

In an announcement timed to mark Sexual Assault Awareness Month last April, Manitoba Health Minister Audrey Gordon announced $640,000 in funding to hire five full-time forensic nurse examiners, including a provincial co-ordinator.

“We recognize that it is difficult for anyone who has undergone a trauma of this nature, and our government takes this very seriously,” a spokesperson from the minister’s office said in a statement Friday.

Shared Health said Thursday doctors and nurse practitioners were helping the remaining SANE nurses cover shifts for the foreseeable future until new hires are trained.

“The classification of these positions as Nurse 2s [from Nurse 3s] is consistent with the classification of nurses who have been providing this service for years as members of the casual workforce,” a spokesperson said in a statement Friday.

People who’ve experienced intimate partner violence or sexual assault should still seek care, the spokesperson said.

In the meantime, the survivor with whom Global News spoke said she’s grateful for a program she believes should be available to everyone.

“I think about how those nurses held me and cared for me and were like my bridge between, you know, an assault and a life and a life that I love that I’m able to have because of their support.”

— with files from Global’s Shane Gibson

&copy 2023 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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