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Questions raised over lack of SANE expansion to Truro

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TRURO, N.S. – More than three months after the provincial government promised to expand the Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) program to Truro, there is still no indication of when that might happen.

And for one of the women who last fall shared her account of being improperly received when she went to the Colchester East Hants Health Centre to report a sexual assault, the lack of progress on the issue is disheartening.

“It’s very disappointing. It doesn’t appear that anything is happening,” said the woman, who asked that her name be withheld.

The woman also questions why there has been no word from the province since the Department of Health and Wellness announced its intentions in October that the SANE program would be expanded to Truro.

“Why not?” she said. “I get that it might take time for them to implement that type of resource.”

But the woman added she believes it is only “fair” that the province at least indicate its timeline for bringing the SANE program to Truro.

“It doesn’t appear that anything is happening,” she said. “It makes me wonder how many more people have to have a letter come across the minister’s desk for something to happen. The government really has to take a lead on this.”

The woman was one of two who shared their stories with the Truro News last fall about their experiences with the Truro hospital after presenting there to report that they had been sexually assaulted.

One woman met directly with Health and Wellness Minister Randy Delorey following publication of her story while the second woman, who is speaking out again, said she had received a letter from him confirming the department’s intentions.

But without any indication of a timeline for expansion of the SANE program, the woman said, “there is nothing to say it is going to be soon.”

Delorey said at the time that a solution was being developed to mitigate current gaps in access in Cumberland and Colchester counties while identifying options to address service gaps in the longer term.

"Expanding SANE services in this area will assist to enhance system responsiveness to individuals who disclose an incident of sexual violence," his letter to the woman said. "It is an important component of a trauma-informed approach to the care of individuals who have experienced sexual assault."

In response to an inquiry by the Truro News about the status of the province’s plan, department spokeswoman Tracy Barron said a request for proposals for a service organization to deliver the SANE program in the Truro and Amherst areas is being developed.

“We will share more details on the service requirements when available,” she said.

In the meantime, the Nova Scotia Health Authority (NSHA) is taking steps to enhance services for victims of sexual assault in emergency departments without a SANE program, she said.

Those steps include education requirements for staff, information materials for victims within the emergency department and facilitating better communication regarding access and transportation to an emergency department with a SANE program, Barron said, in an emailed response.

“It is important for Nova Scotians to know that all victims are receiving immediate medical attention and treatment as required,” she said. “This includes a triage assessment and ongoing assessments and interventions by the health care team as needed.”

The SANE program is available at the hospitals in Antigonish and New Glasgow and Barron said individuals who present specifically to the Truro hospital emergency department are offered the option of being referred to one of those facilities.

Other options include being referred to the Avalon Sexual Assault Centre SANE program based in Halifax, which has sites at the Cobequid Community Health Centre in Lower Sackville, Dartmouth General Hospital or at the QEII and IWK.

For those choosing to remain at the Colchester East Hants Health Centre in Truro, however, arrangements can be made to have a local physician complete the examination there, Barron said.

Or, if an individual is being transferred to an alternate site, staff and physicians will make all efforts to arrange for transportation if necessary and continue to provide support while waiting for transportation, she said.

But that is far from the response the woman quoted above said she received when she went to the Truro hospital to report a sexual assault.

Likewise, for another young Truro woman who said she was provided with very little information and was essentially left to fend for herself after going to the emergency department in the Truro hospital last summer. That woman said she left the hospital late at night, alone and on foot, after speaking briefly by telephone to a nurse at another hospital about the SANE program and being handed a couple of pamphlets relating to sexual trauma.

“It just felt like I wasn't their problem to deal with," she said, at the time.

Anyone wishing to contact the Avalon Sexual Assault Centre SANE program in the Halifax area can call 1-902-425- 0122.

The SANE program based out of the Antigonish Women’s Resource Centre can be reached at 1-877- 880-SANE (7263).

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