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New Brunswick

More sexual assault nurse examiners to be hired, says Horizon Health

Horizon Health Network hopes to hire the equivalent of about seven full-time sexual assault investigators in the coming weeks and has already filled three coordinator positions.

In addition, five out of seven nurses who resigned last autumn after comments from the Prime Minister and a senior health official about the refusal of a victim from Fredericton’s emergency room have now returned, according to vice-president for clinical operations Greg Doiron.

“We are pleased to announce that all facilities offered [sexual assault nurse examiner] Services have seen an increase in coverage over the past few months,” Doiron said in an emailed statement.

at dr Everett Chalmers Regional Hospital in Fredericton, for example, achieved 100 percent coverage in January, he said.

In September, CBC News reported that a 26-year-old sexual assault victim who went to the Chalmers emergency room to have a rape kit performed was told that no one trained to conduct the exam would be there until the next day be staffed or available on call.

The woman, whose name CBC does not name, was ordered to go home overnight, not shower or change, and use the bathroom as little as possible to secure evidence.

Her case garnered national attention and prompted a review of the Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) program.

Prime Minister Blaine Higgs and Margaret Melanson, interim CEO and President of Horizon, had described the incident as “unacceptable”. It reflected “a process guided by very bad decisions and a lack of compassion,” Higgs had said, prompting some resignations.

“We are disheartened that our CEO and Prime Minister just threw us under the bus,” sexual assault examiner Janet Matheson told CBC of her colleagues at the time.

A portrait of a man sitting in an office.
Horizon is prioritizing recruiting and hiring permanent sexual assault investigators, said Greg Doiron, vice president of clinical operations. (Government of New Brunswick/Zoom)

In October, Horizon announced sweeping changes, including plans to add full-time sexual assault nurses who would devote themselves to the program, rather than relying largely on full-time nurses being on call in addition to their regular duties.

“All of the new positions have been posted as planned and we are pleased to confirm that qualified applicants have responded to each of them,” Doiron said on Wednesday.

Sexual assault examiners provide forensic investigations that include the collection of physical evidence admissible in court, medical exams and medications to prevent pregnancy and STDs, compassionate support, and aftercare resources.

Interviews were pending

“Candidates will be interviewed over the coming weeks and we look forward to beginning the onboarding process shortly thereafter,” said Doiron, who led the review.

Doiron previously said the breakdown of additional full-time care needs included:

  • Moncton area – 2.8 Registered Nurses, Class A, full-time equivalent.
  • Saint John area — 1.8.
  • Fredericton area – 1.8.
  • Miramichi range — 0.4.
  • Upper River Valley – 0.4.

That guarantees 16 hours a day coverage in Moncton, Saint John and Fredericton and eight hours a day in the Upper River Valley and Miramichi, he had said.

“Horizon prioritizes the modernization of [sexual assault nurse examiner] and we are working hard to tailor a program that best meets the needs of patients, staff and the community,” Doiron said Wednesday.

A nurse with a stethoscope holds a patient's hands
The changes to the program, announced last fall, will help ensure “consistent access and improved care for survivors of sexual assault and intimate partner violence,” Horizon said. (wavebreakmedia/Shutterstock)

A program coordinator has now been hired for Miramichi Regional Hospital, while the coordinator positions at Dr. Everett Chalmers and Saint John Regional Hospital have been increased to full-time positions, he said, noting the coordinators. Coordinator position in Moncton was already full-time.

According to the interim president and CEO, the additional staffing is expected to cost an additional $1.16 million per year, with Horizon paying through the end of 2022-23.

When asked if the provincial government has come through with ongoing funding as hoped, Doiron replied, “Funding commitments for these important improvements…are in place.”

New governance committee to review name change

Among other changes announced was the development of a provincial education strategy.

Horizon “is working to develop and implement technological solutions that will increase access to the intensive training required” to become certified as a sexual assault examiner, Doiron said.

The next round of certification training is expected to take place later this winter or spring, he said.

A provincial government committee was formed last fall as planned, Doiron said. The eight-member committee consists of executives from Horizon, Vitalité and the Ministry of Health. He didn’t name any.

The committee held its inaugural meeting on November 28, and its duties and framework had been established, he said, without elaborating.

The committee will meet again in the coming weeks to consider changing the name of the program to Forensic Nurse Examiner as part of a proposed renaming.

This idea came from the examiners themselves to better reflect the specialized diverse training and skills required for the role today than when the program began in New Brunswick in 2006, Doiron said.

If the formal name change is approved at the committee level, it must be approved by both Horizon and Vitalité and the health ministry, he said.

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