Mercy Regional Medical Center will expand staff hours dedicated to victims of sexual assault thanks to a state grant it will receive in January.
Mercy will receive $75,000 from the grant, allowing the hospital to expand staff hours dedicated to its Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner program, said Bethany Bernal, 6th Judicial District SANE nurse coordinator. The funding will also support new equipment and education.
The funding is part of a two-year, $991,970 grant awarded to Centura Health that will be split between 10 hospitals in the Centura system. Centura Health could reapply for the grant to be renewed.
“Due to this grant, Centura Health anticipates increasing the number of patients we serve through this program by 73 percent over two years,” said Carrie Bach, St. Anthony Foundation director, in a news release from Centura. “At the current increasing rate of rape crimes, Colorado is estimating 3,750 sexual assaults to be reported this year alone. Centura Health expects to treat the equivalent of 25 percent of the survivors who report assault in Colorado.”
At Mercy, the number of sexual assault survivors coming to the emergency room has increased substantially over the past four years, Bernal said. In 2014, the SANE program served 15 patients, and so far this year, it has served 56, she said.
It is possible more victims are coming forward in the era of the #MeToo movement, and there is greater awareness of the support for victims of sexual assault in town, she said.
“A lot more women are feeling empowered to come forward and talk about it,” Bernal said.
Changes in the law, which do not require adults younger than the age of 69 who are victims of sexual assault to speak to police if they come forward, may also be contributing to higher numbers, she said.
When victims of sexual assault come into the emergency room, the five nurses in the SANE program, including Bernal, have the time to spend hours with them, said Paul Gibson, director of the emergency room.
The nurses are trained to complete meticulous examinations of the sexual assault victims and collect evidence that can later be used to prosecute the suspect, Bernal said. The nurses will connect victims to community resources that can help with other needs, such as housing.
As part of the grant, the SANE program will receive a colposcope, which can magnify injuries and take more detailed photos of them that can be submitted to prosecutors, Bernal said.
Starting in January, the grant will increase the amount of time she can dedicate to the program from seven hours a week to 24.
The additional hours per week will give Bernal more time to ensure the documentation collected from sexual assault exams is accurate, Gibson said.
Bernal also expects to spend the time on internal education for her staff and supporting them as well as updating policies and procedures based on new laws and federal guidance, she said.
She also expects to spend time working with outside groups, such as law enforcement and the 6th Judicial District, she said. For example, she plans to hold a training for the La Plata County Sheriff’s Office.
Bernal has also helped other rural hospitals set up SANE programs, and she will have more time to spend on that, too, she said.