Tanya Fir, parliamentary secretary for the status of women, said last week that the province will cover tuition for registered nurses, nurse practitioners, registered midwives and doctors invited to take the Rural Sexual Assault Care program, an online course offered by Grande Prairie’s Northwestern Polytechnic.
The 12-hour self-study course is designed to familiarize health-care providers with sexual assault testing and evidence (SATE) procedures and to build on the emotional skills needed to treat survivors. The overarching aim is to make SATE testing more available in rural hospitals so that survivors don’t need to undergo the procedure in far-flung cities.
“Every person who’s been sexually assaulted deserves access to care and forensic evidence collection, regardless of where they live,” Fir said.
“Sometimes, in certain rural areas, there may not be health-care providers that have this training or are comfortable administering it,” she added.
Dr. Gavin Parker, lead physician at Pincher Creek Health Centre’s emergency room, said he welcomes the program’s intent, but cautioned that staff crunches are the limiting factor, not training gaps.
Parker noted that the hours-long procedures sap vital staff resources because SATE kits are designed to gather evidence of a crime.
“There’s a very strict chain of evidence that we have to follow,” he said, explaining that SATE procedures cannot be interrupted. The necessary examination is so intimate and invasive that Parker chooses to perform the procedure alongside a nurse, which takes responding nurses off the ER floor.
Sexual assault often brings trauma that needs urgent medical attention, but Parker said evidence gathering isn’t a medical priority.
“The more we can do on-site, the better…. But I can’t in good conscience ignore other patients in the health centre who might get hurt in the two to three hours it takes to perform the test.”
Parker said he’s performed the procedure in small hospitals and will continue to do so when he can, qualifying that it’s not uncommon that survivors treated at the health centre are transported for SATE procedures by the nearest sexual assault response team, at Chinook Regional Hospital in Lethbridge. Sometimes, survivors have to drive themselves, he said.
“If the province really wanted to be serious about this, they’d pay for designated physicians to be on call,” Parker said.
The RSAC program is funded through a $1-million investment the province announced last fall.
Participation is voluntary and the program doesn’t require a practicum, according to Fir and Michelle Wallace, Northwestern’s associate dean of continuing education.
The program is set to launch April 3, according to Wallace.