Newswise — Vanderbilt University Medical Center has received a federal grant of nearly $500,000 to expand access to Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners (SANEs) across Middle Tennessee, particularly to rural and underserved areas.

The grant, from the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office for Victims of Crime, is awarded to increase the number and availability of SANEs and sexual assault forensic examiners (SAFEs), expand access to sexual assault forensic examinations to communities that have been historically underresourced, and improve the quality of post-sexual assault care using a hospital-based, community-based, campus-based or corrections-based approach.

While any nurse can assess a patient, Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners are specifically trained to help victims of sexual assault, collect evidence and testify in court, said Katrina Brown, MSN, RN, CEN, SANE, Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner Team Lead. They must complete a 40-hour classroom course and 16 hours of clinical skills training, in addition to exams with a preceptor.

"It takes a lot of courage for a victim to come forward and seek treatment and disclose their assault in the first place,” Brown said. “SANEs receive extensive training in trauma-informed care and meeting the patient where they are, knowing that they've gone through something extremely traumatic and helping them navigate this system.”

In the last five years, VUMC has been instrumental in expanding access of SANE access throughout Middle Tennessee, Brown said. Before VUMC’s SANE program was created in June 2018, Nashville General Hospital was the only Nashville location offering SANE services.

Now Vanderbilt is one of several local options where victims of sexual assault can be examined by a specially trained nurse. About 90% of patients are seen at the Vanderbilt University Hospital Emergency Department. Other locations include Vanderbilt University Student Health Center, Vanderbilt Wilson County Hospital (VWCH) and Vanderbilt Tullahoma Harton Hospital (VTTH). VUMC's 36 SANEs examine patients ages 16 and older and a SANE is on call 24 hours a day. Patients under 16 have access to similar services through another agency, Our Kids Center.

“With this grant, our specially trained nurses will be able to provide this very specialized care to more people who need it,” said Marilyn Dubree, MSN, RN, NE-BC, Executive Chief Nursing Officer. “This is just another example of how Vanderbilt nurses offer personalized care that responds to the needs of the community.”

Brown said the grant will help expand the number and quality of SANE services throughout Middle Tennessee, including Vanderbilt Bedford Hospital. Vanderbilt’s SANE program’s three-year plan is to develop and implement a formal SANE training program to be used to train 90 SANE providers internal and external to Vanderbilt clinics and hospitals. It also plans to expand access to VIVID Health, which serves the LGBTQ community, as well as further building the programs at VWCH and VTTH. Lastly, the plan aims to increase the linkages between the Vanderbilt program and external agencies and law enforcement supporting victims of sexual assault in Middle Tennessee.

“By expanding access to sexual assault nurse examiners, we will provide more timely care and support to victims,” Brown said, “while also collaborating with our law enforcement and advocacy partners to help contribute to a safer Nashville and Middle Tennessee region.”

VUMC’s SANE program has already grown significantly in just the last couple of years. In 2023, SANEs cared for 141 patients at VUMC and Student Health, up from 84 patients in 2022. In addition to performing exams, they help connect patients with resources, including those in intimate partner violence or human trafficking populations. They offer advice on preventing sexually transmitted infections, including HIV, and ensure patients have access to emergency contraception.

“My team of nurses is the most passionate, dedicated, high-performing team of nurses who truly want to change the world,” Brown said. “It is a privilege and an honor to be able to offer these services to patients here as well as reaching into our rural communities.”


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