The Lead

Senate committee advances bill expanding access to sexual assault nurse examiners

By: - May 2, 2023 12:10 pm
Pennsylvania Capitol Building. May 24, 2022. Harrisburg, Pa. (Photo by Amanda Berg, for the Capital-Star).

Pennsylvania Capitol Building on Tuesday, May 24, 2022. (Photo by Amanda Berg, for the Capital-Star).

A Republican-controlled Senate panel has voted to expand access to expert nurses who help ensure best practices and a safe environment for sexual assault survivors during examinations.

The Senate Health and Human Services Committee on Monday unanimously voted to advance a bill, authored by Sen. Elder Vogel, R-Beaver, that would enhance access to telehealth programs connecting partner hospitals with sexual assault nurse examiners — or SANEs — who are trained to provide comprehensive care to sexual assault patients and remotely assist during exams.

“Currently, Pennsylvania is seeing an immense shortage of SANEs in our health care facilities, which puts victims at an extreme disadvantage where they may have to be seen by an unqualified examiner, or worse, have to be turned away by the hospital without an exam,” Vogel said.

He added that his proposal would enhance existing programs, such as the SAFE-T Program, which remotely offers 24/7 guidance during sexual assault examinations. The legislation also requires that patients are admitted to an exam room within 90 minutes of their arrival at a care facility and creates a complaint system based on standards of care outlined in existing state law.

Under the proposal, the Department of Health must create a public list of hospitals and details about their SANE capabilities, including the hospital address and phone number.

“Better access to SANEs means victims can get [the] immediate help they need after suffering through a tragic ordeal of being assaulted,” Vogel said. “We cannot risk having them experiencing secondary trauma, delays or errors in care, [or] improper collection of evidence due to a shortage of experienced staff.”

A previous version of this proposal unanimously passed the Senate during the last legislative session, but it died without ever seeing a vote in the House of Representatives.

Sen. Judy Schwank, D-Berks, said she attended a SANE demonstration at Penn State Health’s St. Joseph Medical Center, describing it as “incredible” and addressing examination procedures and “compassion for the victims.”

The legislation now goes to the full Senate for consideration.

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