Action News Investigation: There's a shortage of Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- Health experts say across the Delaware Valley there's a shortage of Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners who are responsible for administering rape kits.

A victim, whom we are not identifying, says, "I was raped last September."

Her life changed forever at an off-campus event at a local college.

She says, "I think I was in shock for a few hours."

She ended up at the Philadelphia Sexual Assault Response Center in Hunting Park, where almost all victims of sexual assault in the city are sent.

She says she waited six hours before being seen by a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner, known as a S.A.N.E. nurse.

"No one was coming to the waiting room to explain what was happening or why it was taking so long. The only reason I stayed there was because my friends were with me," says the victim.

The response center is designed to be a "centralized center" for victims. The Philadelphia Police Department's Special Victim's Unit is next door.

Women's Organized Against Rape is also on site for counseling.

Dr. Ralph Riviello is one of the founders of the non-profit.

"So we basically provide all level of service that a victim would need," said Riviello.

But advocates for sex assault victims say there is a problem: the center's S.A.N.E nurses are on call.

Action News called over 200 emergency rooms and followed up with administrative staff to learn about S.A.N.E nurse availability.

We created a database and this interactive map of Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware.

We found more than 80 percent either don't have S.A.N.E nurses available at all or only have them on call.

"Having somebody that is available can be an expensive proposition if that's all they are there for, or you're a lower volume center," said Dr. Riviello.

But that doesn't apply in Philadelphia, a city with roughly 1,000 reported rapes a year.

Not one hospital in Philadelphia has a S.A.N.E nurse on staff 24/7 except for the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.

We asked Nicole Stahlman with the International Association of Forensic Nurses if most hospitals in an urban center should have a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner on staff 24/7.

"My hope is, yes, one day there will be," said Stahlman.

Stahlman says ChristianaCare in Newark, Delaware is considered the gold standard for sexual assault treatment.

The hospital treats victims from all over the region. It has 17 forensic nurses on staff.

"We have a very supportive organization here at ChristianaCare," said Sarah Peluso

The shortage of Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners is largely two-fold.

One is money. Many hospitals won't even pay for the S.A.N.E training nor the time off for it.

The other is burnout.

The emotional toll is extensive, and for on-call nurses, they have to work odd hours for low pay in addition to their regular jobs.

Victims are left with the fallout.

"It just felt surreal waiting that long, being treated like I was an inconvenience for sitting there waiting to report being raped," one victim told Action News.

Illinois has passed a law requiring hospitals to staff S.A.N.E nurses 24/7, and patients must be seen within 90 minutes.

In New Jersey, S.A.N.E nurses are administered at the county level.

A coordinator is responsible for the recruitment, training and supervision of the Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners who contract with the county to provide the medical forensic exams to victims of sexual assault. While the nurses are on call, they are expected to respond in a timely manner.

CORRECTION: St. Christopher's Hospital for Children originally told Action News that they did have a SANE nurse on staff. The hospital now tells us its since changed its SANE program and does not have a SANE nurse on staff.
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