Hospital Program To Focus On Treating Rape Victims

Nurses At North Arundel To Handle Exams, Interviews

April 20, 1997|By Elaine Tassy | Elaine Tassy,SUN STAFF

North Arundel Hospital staffers will begin a new way of examining rape and sexual assault victims, starting in mid-May.

Five emergency room nurses at the Glen Burnie hospital will spend two or three hours with victims, interviewing them about what happened, performing a thorough forensic exam, and collecting evidence through a program called SAFE (Sexual Assault Forensic Examiners).

Procedures now are different. Victims, like the 80 who went there in 1996, are examined by emergency room doctors who don't have much time to focus on individual cases and who don't have training in doing the forensic exams, nurses say.

"Physicians, historically, have never really been trained in sexual assault examinations," said Carole B. Kimmel, a nurse at Mercy Hospital in downtown Baltimore, which has a similar program that North Arundel is using as its model.

She said the exam takes two to three hours, but doctors typically can spend only 10 to 15 minutes with a victim. Also, exams are performed in a busy room, and victims have to wait until patients with critical medical emergencies have been treated.

Holly Enders, the emergency room nurse coordinating the North Arundel program, wants to turn a storage room in a more secluded part of the emergency room into a private examining area with a couch for interviews and an examination bed.

The five female nurses who chose to be trained for the SAFE program will be on call 24 hours a day at scheduled times when they are not working and paged if someone arrives to report a sexual assault. The nurses are expected to arrive within an hour.

"These people are very traumatized -- that's one of the reasons I wanted to set the program up," Enders said.

The nurses prepared for their new assignment by riding with police to see them work at crime scenes, watching court testimony to see how evidence is used in prosecution and learning how to do pelvic exams from North Arundel Hospital emergency room doctors.

They will use a $10,000 colposcope -- a large microscope that stands on the floor about a foot from the victim's body and increases the chance of finding abrasions in the pelvic area. Now, doctors make only a visual exam of the area.

"I want to catch every speck I can," Enders said. "I don't want to feel rushed when I take care of these patients."

Nurses also will pluck 25 hairs, collect fingernail scrapings, gather bodily fluids, including traces of semen and saliva, and take the victim's clothes and shoes and turn them over in signed envelopes to the Maryland State Police, which pays for the exam. "It's a very uncomfortable thing to go through," Enders said.

Victims of sexual assault will no longer have to see doctors unless they receive a physical injury during the attack, according to Catherine O'Neill, North Arundel Hospital's emergency department nurse manager.

She said the hospital spent $18,000 for the nurses' training and will spend $36,000 each year on their salaries.

Although Baltimore prosecutors have no data to show that evidence collected through the program at Mercy has led to convictions, using technology and trained nurses has helped identify sexual assault injuries that otherwise would have gone undetected, said Emanuel Brown, a Baltimore assistant state's attorney who directs the sex crimes unit.

Pub Date: 4/20/97

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