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NSMC Program Has Aided In Prosecuting Sexual Assault Suspects

Since its launch five months ago, North Shore Medical Center’s TeleSANE program has successfully helped nearly a dozen victims of sexual assault in the greater Salem area receive higher-quality care.

This past January, the hospital partnered with the Massachusetts Department of Public Health to launch the North Shore’s first TeleSANE sexual assault treatment program, which virtually connects staff at the hospital’s facility with offsite, trauma-informed experts — including SANE nurses — using live video technology as they treat patients in real time.

“The nurses here find it very supportive,” said program leader and nurse educator Nancy Hassan. “They want to get as much evidence for the victim as possible, so the TeleSANE is there to support the nurses and (give them suggestions) that we incorporate into our examination.”

SANE (Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner) nurses are considered crucial when it comes to providing care to victims of sexual assault.

Those with the certification are required to complete 48 hours of specialized training and are familiarized with various aspects of assault care, including information gathering and evidence collection, that may be uncharted territory for other medical workers.

In January, HAWC social worker Elisabeth Nash Wrenn, who helped bring the TeleSANE program to NSMC, said opening the center in Salem meant a “huge reduction in access barriers” when it came to victims being able to receive proper care after an assault.

“Working with the Department of Public Health, we knew this was the only area that didn’t have a SANE site in the entire state,” she said. “For the last decade-plus, the onus has been on the survivor to get themselves to Boston for care, and we just know that’s not trauma-informed.”

Hassan said that the program has played a crucial role in guiding NSMC healthcare workers through the exam process in ways that prioritize the victim’s comfort while also ensuring evidence is collected accurately and efficiently.

She added that patients have given overwhelmingly positive feedback, and the center has already implemented some suggestions on how to improve the overall experience for victims.

“It’s a new concept for the community,” she said. “Not everyone wants to have this total stranger watching them on the video, and we respect that.”

According to Hassan, the center has treated 10 patients since it opened in January. Although she couldn’t give specifics, she said evidence collected with the help of TeleSANE nurses has helped multiple victims prosecute their abusers.

“We’re getting more evidence,” she said. “You’ve got someone there saying, ‘I would swab (that) a little more to the right or more to the left.’ They’re doing it the correct way, and they’re adding their expertise as someone who’s done hundreds of sexual assault cases, whereas the ED nurses may see one every few months.”

Hassan also stressed that the center is operating as usual — albeit with additional safety precautions — during the COVID-19 health crisis and encouraged victims not to hesitate to come in for care. In a separate interview, Salem mayor Kimberly Driscoll agreed that having the TeleSANE program in the city has been crucial in providing trauma-informed care for North Shore residents.

“For the individuals who find themselves in these horrible situations, (it’s important) to make sure they have somebody who’s trained and knows how they’re feeling and knows how to address the medical interventions that are necessary,” she said. “If we can help more people by doing that digitally, that’s a really important benefit for our community overall.”