Members of the Huntingdon County Criminal Justice Advisory Board heard the success and progress of the SAFE-T (Sexual Assault Forensic Examination Telehealth) program at Penn Highlands Huntingdon, formerly J.C. Blair Memorial Hospital.

The program, implemented last year, provides nurses with 24/7 access to expert examiners from around the state. The program is coordinated through Penn State University.

Joann Goodman, a sexual assault nurse examiner (SANE) at the hospital, discussed the program and how it has benefited trained SANEs.

“I’ve been a SANE for 10 years, and when I was trained, I went through a 40-hour training at a facility,” she said. “Before this program, if someone was admitted for sexual assault, someone would come in if they were available, and if nobody was available, we would send them to another hospital.”

Now, Goodman said someone is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week at the hospital for victims of sexual assault who want to report.

Goodman added that while SANEs have been available, this program them has allowed them to give even more support and be an advocate for victims of sexual assault, allowing more people to come forward and report sexual assault.

“Before this program, we had maybe four or five cases reported per year,” she said. “We realized that things could be improved, but we were doing the best with what we had.”

The SAFE-T program, which was created in 2018, was designed to give rural hospitals with support to aid victims of sexual assault.

“They help provide us with a second eye and moral support,” said Goodman. “There’s a detailed kit with a 28-page form to fill out, and an exam takes about 4-5 hours. They allow us to be more confident and provide better care.

She also explained that while nurses are there in a telehealth capacity, they aren’t the ones who are doing the exams.

“Sometimes, we can be caught up in gathering all of the evidence, and they are the ones who are speaking to the patient, providing moral support,” said Goodman.

With this program, Goodman said they can also meet with nurses from Penn State University once a month and they can also do peer reviews with each other to improve their own work.

More people have come forward since the program has been implemented, and they’ve had 10-11 cases per year, thanks to education and outreach.

“We have victims/patients who have come to us and thanked us for the compassion we’ve shown,” said Goodman. “We’ve met with people at Juniata College, and we’re putting some of the misconceptions they’ve had, like we would have to call parents, or they would have to pay for these exams, to rest.”

Now, Goodman said they are forming a sexual assault response team that includes SANEs, as well as local and state law enforcement and agencies involved with advocating for sexual assault victims.

Funding for the program came from the Penn State University College of Nursing through a grant from the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office for Victims of Crime. In addition, Juniata College, which received its own DOJ grant for an on-campus initiative, contributed some of its funding to the hospital to assist with training.

Kylie can be reached at khawn@huntingdondailynews.com.

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