Manitoba forensic nurses raise alarm over hiring for program to help sex assault victims
Two Manitoba nurses who work with victims of sexual assault and intimate partner violence say they are concerned about how funds for the program are being used.
The Sane (Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner) program is made up of specialist forensic nurses who collect evidence that can be used in sexual assault investigations, but they work primarily on a casual basis and often have jobs in other areas of the health care system.
Earlier this week, the Manitoba Nurses Union raised concerns after it was revealed that some victims were presented at the Health Science Center when a nurse examiner was not on site and were sent home and told not to change or shower, until they could be examined.
“We recognize that this is exceptionally difficult for anyone who has suffered trauma of this nature, and we are extremely committed and passionate about significantly improving this service so that this does not happen again,” said Monika Warren, Chief Nursing Officer of Shared Health, during a news conference on Friday.
Manitoba Shared Health is in the process of revising the program and hiring permanent staff, but nurses currently working with SANE say the way the new positions are being graded is affecting their ability to care for victims , restricted.
The province has created seven new permanent positions for the program, which will be renamed the Forensic Nurse Examiner Program.
Five nurses have been recruited and one manager is expected to start work in the coming weeks.
However, when these positions were originally advertised they were listed as Nursing 3 positions that have the opportunity to move between facilities to meet patients and must go through an application process to be hired.
These job postings were later revised as Nurse 2 positions, which are limited to working in a facility, and positions are assigned based on seniority within Shared Health and not necessarily based on experience as a forensic nurse.
Heather Didora is a registered nurse with the Sexual Assault Nurse Examination Program. (Submitted by Heather Didora)
Heather Didora, a nurse who works with the program, said it was “retraumatizing” when victims showed up at a hospital other than the HSC and were told they had to go somewhere else.
“We’ve had situations where they chose not to see us, so patients are missing and don’t seek this treatment because it’s just another barrier they have to overcome to be able to see us,” he said you.
Between April 1, 2022 and January 24, 2023, 764 patients presented for the program. In 14 of these cases, a forensic nurse was unavailable to provide the required care.
According to Shared Health, nine were able to be examined later that same day, one patient had to return the next day and four declined an examination.
The province last year announced $640,000 annually to support the program and hire permanent staff.
Ashley Stewart, another nurse working with the program, worries that the nurses hired may not have the experience required.
“Without that forensic nursing experience [it] can take anywhere from six months to a year before they can start seeing patients independently,” Stewart said.
Ashley Stewart is a forensic nurse with the Sexual Assault Nurses Examination Program. (Submitted by Ashley Stewart)
Warren said the original posting for the Nurse 3 positions was an error and after reviewing the roles and responsibilities, Shared Health determined the positions matched a Nurse 2 position.
“This proposal and this phase of our stabilization around the service or its construction was not intended to have HSC nurses travel to other locations,” Warren said.
“Unless there is an extreme situation, these staff are to remain at our hub location, the HSC, and via telehealth, support those who are referrals from other locations.”
The service could reach a point where it can support nurses traveling to other facilities, but a decision hasn’t been made, Warren said.