The capacity of hospitals is likely to vary across the country as illness and hospitalizations continue to rise. Local programs should check in with their hospital partners to discuss protocol and plans for sexual assault forensic exams. Many hospitals are limiting the number of additional people who can accompany patients and advocates may need to plan to provide support via a telemedicine portal or via phone. Conversations with hospitals should also cover the hospital's metrics for when hospitals will stop performing exams.
A copy of the guide WCSAP sent its members to guide those conversations with hospitals and within local programs is attached at the bottom of this page.
West Virginia Foundation for Rape and Information Services also ran and evaluated a mobile SANE unit pilot project. Their final report may offer some tips and guidance for communities looking to implement something similar.
In conversation with a representative from the International Association of Forensic Nurses (IAFN), they shared the following tips as well:
Please encourage your programs to connect with their SART members to ensure coordination of services. Some information for them to discuss includes:
- Is the hospital restricting access to "non-essential" visitors, and what does that mean for advocates responding to the hospital?
- Has the advocacy program modified their services in any way (e.g. telephone services only?)
- If an advocate is unable to provide in-person hospital response, coordinate with about how they might be available to the survivor by phone.
- If a survivor has an opportunity to speak with an advocate by phone, please ensure the survivor is able to talk with the advocate in a private location at the hospital that promotes confidentiality.
Please also encourage your programs to take guidance directly from local health officials. However, if needed, please support them in advocating on behalf of survivors that medical care following sexual violence is to be considered a medical emergency and not an elective procedure. We all must be creative and flexible so that access to patient care is not compromised or delayed.
Some resources that may be helpful:
IAFN’s COVID page: https://www.forensicnurses.org/page/covid
The Emergency Nurses Association https://www.ena.org/practice-resources/COVID-19
IAFN also posted an update recently saying that nurses are receiving renewed marketing for do-it-yourself evidence collection kits. They released a video explaining why these kits are not best practice in the interest of survivors. Their statement includes the following simple explanation that may be useful for coalitions continuing to field questions about these kits as well:
"We know some forensic nurse examiner programs have received updated marketing information regarding at-home evidence collection kits. We first addressed this issue in August of 2019 when they were being marketed to college campuses and individuals.
Despite our current circumstances and challenges, do-it-yourself evidence collection kits continue to be a poor practice that provide no healthcare benefit to the patient.
These kits provide no option for pregnancy or sexually transmitted disease prevention, no opportunity for the clinician to assess related short- and long-term health issues, and no opportunity to connect patients with available community resources. Additionally, they raise serious questions about the admissibility of evidence and the chain of custody.”
The full video state and additional materials can be found on IAFN's Addressing DIY Sexual Assault Evidence Collection Kits page. A copy of the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape letter on this topic offers one example of a coalition response. The New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic & Sexual Violence also shared an advocacy letter sent to their state legislature in support of a bill to prohibt the sale of these kits in their state (letter attached below).
Vermont also recently shared an example of a letter from their state forensic nurses program outlining their current protocols for working with advocates (attached below).
As local programs continue to offer advocacy remotely, the Ohio Alliance to End Sexual Violence created a hospital advocacy video that sexual assault nurse examiners and other medical professionals can show survivors when they access services at emergency rooms. The video is available online at: https://www.oaesv.org/what-we-do/resources-for-providers/covid19-emerging-response-resources/healthcare-resources/