Sex assault nursing training program may expand to Iberia

A program that trains nurses to conduct forensic sexual assault exams in Lafayette emergency rooms since 2006 expanded to St. Martin Parish last year and plans to continue its outreach into Iberia Parish later this year.

Hearts of Hope began the Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners program to alleviate what was often an hours-long wait for an exam and the potential loss of critical evidence, or prevent a patient from leaving the emergency room before treatment, said Jill Howell Dugas, Hearts of Hope executive director.

“You could lose evidence waiting. You could lose the patient altogether because they have so many emotions and they’re waiting in an ER waiting to be seen and not getting the care that they need,” Dugas said.

Currently, there are four SANE-trained nurses taking emergency room calls and more are still in training, Dugas said. Training takes about a year and includes online and face-to-face classes, clinical experiences and buddy calls with a trained SANE nurse.

“Our next goal is to expand into Iberia,” she said. “We just need to find funding.”

The expansion into St. Martin Parish was due to the cooperation of the cities of Breaux Bridge and St. Martinville, the St. Martin Parish Sheriff’s Office, the 16th Judicial District Attorney’s Office and St. Martin Hospital, said Chester Cedars, chief prosecutor for St. Martin Parish.

That cooperation was backed by a financial commitment.

The law enforcement agencies in Breaux Bridge, St. Martinville and the Sheriff’s Office each agreed to budget $10,000 annually for the SANE nurse program, Cedars said.

“We don’t think it will cost each agency that much each year, but they’ve agreed to budget that much,” Cedars said. “The budget’s tight for all these agencies and cities, but when I made the presentation to the governmental bodies, I didn’t get one iota of negative comments. … It’s a great, great program that came to be because they had the commitment to do the right thing.”

The DA’s Office covers the expense of the kits, which the office supplied previously for examinations, Cedars said.

In 2013, SANE nurses conducted 90 exams in Lafayette and St. Martin parishes, responding to the emergency room within 45 minutes, Dugas said.

The program is beneficial for both law enforcement and hospital staff, Cedars said.

“They can have an expert conduct a thorough investigation without being compromised by the hectic environment in the emergency room,” Cedars said. “The biggest benefactor is the general public. The victims who are abused now have the opportunity to have a person specially trained in sexual assault cases to examine, collect evidence and interview at the offset, plus there’s a victim advocate that usually accompanies the SANE nurse.”

Hearts of Hope provides counseling and other services to children and adults in response to sexual violence or abuse through its Children’s Advocacy Center and its Sexual Abuse Response Center.

Last year, the Children’s Advocacy Center conducted 404 forensic interviews of children and provided 844 counseling sessions to adults and children.

The services are designed to ensure that adults and children who are victims of sexual violence or abuse receive compassionate support, Dugas said.

“We’re with them from the beginning to the very end to the court process and we’ll follow up with them to see how they’re doing,” Dugas said. “All the services here are free of charge. That’s why the donations are so important.”