Editor’s Note: In August 2022, a victim of sexual assault was taken to the Dr. Everett Chalmers Hospital in Fredericton, where no Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner was on shift to see her. The victim (who wishes to remain anonymous) came forward with her story on Monday, Sept. 12, 2022. Following the CBC News story, New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs issued a statement stating that the situation lived by the victim showed a “lack of compassion.” Horizon Health Network president and CEO Margaret Melanson called the incident “unacceptable” and announced a review of how the SANE program operated.
It is so disheartening to see that once again, Horizon Health management has failed to publicly support its staff by choosing instead to throw the ER nurses —and now specifically Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners— under the bus.
It is so discouraging that the person Premier Higgs recently appointed as CEO, as well as the Premier himself, made public comments about what happened last week, that were misleading and painted nurses in a negative light either because they were in a rush to avoid taking responsibility and putting the blame where it belongs, or because they simply didn’t take the time or make the effort to find out the true story.
When the Premier tells the media —and therefore the people of New Brunswick— that what happened showed a lack of compassion on behalf of staff, that was nothing short of a slap in the face to an amazing team whose compassion is exactly the attribute that motivates them to continuously go the extra mile in service of patients who are victims of sexual assault.
A Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner is a nursing speciality, requiring extensive training and continuous education (in class, readings, webinars etc.). It requires dedicated, compassionate nurses. Being on a sexual assault nurse examiner team requires whoever is “on call” to drop everything, day or night, and go in to the hospital do a forensic exam whenever the victim of a sexual assault case presents at the hospital. And why do we do it? Because we care, and we want to provide the best care possible to people on their worst possible day.
There are only five of us on the Fredericton team, and it is remarkable how much coverage we do: at least 90 per cent of hours are covered. But every now and then there will be a “no cover” as was the case that night. That was unfortunate as a sexual assault is a traumatic and horrific event and, as a SANE, we take that very seriously, and we want to see our patient/victim in as timely a manner as possible, if possible. But, of course, we can’t predict when such assaults will happen.
The nurse that came in that night to do the exam, was not on call, but when she got called, she got out of bed after completing an evening shift, and arrived within 20-25 minutes.
And, of course, this job is so much more than obtaining the evidence. It is providing compassionate support, and giving medications to prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections. It is providing resources for follow up.
And, then, it is hours of charting, crossing your T’s and dotting your I’s, assuring accuracy so that we would be able to testify in a court of law if charges are pursued.
The process takes hours, and this is done beyond team members regular nursing shifts, not to mention also beyond their life outside of work, like raising families. But still, with only five people, over 90 per cent of the time, a SANE team member is available. Do the math and it’s easy to see how covering all this “on call” time is a huge commitment, and speaks to the very compassion the Premier seems to think we lack.
There are details about this case that would undoubtedly change the public’s opinion of what happened from the perception left by the Horizon CEO and the Premier, but we are handcuffed from sharing them by privacy restrictions.
At the very, very least, Horizon Health CEO Margaret Melanson should find the courage to say publicly and to the Premier: “No, Mr. Higgs, what occurred that night wasn’t the result of a lack of compassion, it was the fault of a system failing under its own weight because of the government’s inability to fix it.”
Janet Matheson is a Fredericton RN who retired a year ago but is still working shifts in the ER and as a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner to help with DECH needs. This piece was originally published publicly on her FaceBook on Sept. 14, 2022.