Evangelical’s SANE program celebrates 20 years of advocacy

Twenty 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 making sure 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 room, 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 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 course-work that includes evidence handling, gynecological and pelvic examination and the sensitive handling of the victim’s mental and emotional well-being in addition to their physical care. The nurses also participate in police rides and meet with district attorneys to get an inside understanding of the criminal system in the area.

Evangelical has four SANE nurses. So far this year, eight cases of sexual assault have come through the emergency department doors. In the last two years, about 25 cases were handled each year.

Darlene Rowe, current director of emergency services and the founder of the SANE program now oversees, the initiative she started 20 years ago. “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.

In the 20 years, the 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 said.

When there was no formal program in place, Rowe would see how victims would come for treatment, evidence would be collected, but due to inconsistencies many of the cases would get overturned.

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 has served as a guide, resource, and advisor in aiding hospitals to begin their own program.