Evangelical Community Hospital’s SANE Program Celebrates 30 Years of Advocacy for Victims

April 26, 2024


Evangelical Community Hospital’s SANE Program Celebrates 30 Years of Advocacy for Victims

Thirty years ago, a registered nurse in Evangelical Community Hospital’s Emergency Department saw a need for a program for sexual assault victims. Through perseverance and determination, the Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) program was begun at the Hospital, making it the first program of its type in all of Pennsylvania.

The SANE program focuses on patient care while at the same time ensuring evidence is collected properly to help further the victim’s chances of conviction of their offender.

At Evangelical, victims are treated in a discrete area of the Emergency Department, away from other patients, in consideration of the sensitive circumstances. Prepared to care for sexual assault patients at all times of the day and night, one of the specially-trained SANE nurses is called in to deliver the personalized care these cases require. An interview with the patient is conducted and is done in a team format with the police present to make it so the patient doesn’t have to relive or retell the story over and over again, lessening the need to re-victimize the patient.

SANE nurses are trained through extensive coursework that includes evidence handling, gynecological/pelvic examination, and the sensitive handling of the victim’s mental and emotional well-being in addition to their physical care. In addition, the nurses participate in police rides and meet with District Attorneys to get an inside understanding of the criminal system in the area.

Evangelical has five SANE nurses. Since the introduction of the program, the Hospital has expanded the SANE program to include pediatric patients who present as victims of sexual abuse with two nurses certified in the handling of these cases. On average, the Hospital SANE nurses respond to 50-60 cases each year. In addition to direct sexual assault cases, the Hospital has also trained staff to better identify patients who may be victims of human trafficking.

Transitions, a crisis center that provides advocacy, empowerment, and education to victims, survivors, families, and communities to end patterns of violence and abuse, has partnered with the Hospital since the program inception to make sure enough resources are available for victims. In marking the anniversary, Transitions staff was present to supply information and answer questions for patients, staff, volunteers, and guests at the Hospital on Wednesday, April 24, 2024.

Darlene Rowe, RN, CEN, founder of the original SANE program and retired Director of Emergency Services at Evangelical, returned to the Hospital to join Transitions in honoring the impact the SANE program has had for people in the community.

“Sexual assault does not discriminate. Victims come through the doors of all ages and genders and each case, thanks to the SANE program, is handled with care and consistency,” said Hannah Johnson, RN, current SANE and Human Trafficking Coordinator at Evangelical. “For 30 years, the SANE program—and more importantly the nurses who have chosen to be part of it—has made great strides in assuring patients are cared for compassionately to help them heal and receive justice.”

Rowe relayed that when there was no formal program in place for sexual assault victims, she would repeatedly see victims come for treatment, evidence collected, but due to inconsistencies many of the cases would get overturned. The SANE program helped not only eliminate inconsistencies through structured policy and protocol, but it added the much-needed element of compassion in the care setting for these victims.

The beginning of the program saw many challenges, including convincing the rural community that a program of this nature was needed.

“Many would like to believe sexual assault does not happen in this area—that it is a crime of larger cities and different circumstances. When the SANE program began, we had to make the case for why it was needed to get the support of the local justice system, universities, businesses, and individuals. It was hard work, but well worth the result,” said Rowe.

Since the inception of Evangelical’s SANE program in 1994, other hospitals in the area have been inspired to start their own programs and the availability of some type of sexual assault advocacy is available in hospitals statewide. In many cases, Rowe served as a guide, resource, and advisor in aiding hospitals to begin their own programs.

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