New Brunswick’s Horizon Health Network is promising changes after a victim of an alleged sexual assault was turned away from an emergency room in Fredericton last month.
CTV News has not spoken with the victim, but the Fredericton Police Force confirms it received a call on Aug. 1 from someone who was looking for guidance while trying to be seen at the Dr. Everett Chalmers Regional Hospital.
The woman had requested a sexual assault forensic examination – often referred to as a rape kit. However, according to both Horizon Health and Fredericton police, she was told to wait until morning because there wasn’t a trained nurse available to do the examination.
At that point, a police officer stepped in.
“I can confirm that an FPF (Fredericton Police Force) officer provided assistance and followed up with the Chalmers hospital on behalf of an individual who had reported a serious sexually-based crime,” said a spokesperson for Fredericton police.
“The file is now with the RCMP.”
Horizon Health Network’s CEO Margaret Melanson confirms a trained sexual assault nurse examiner was not available that evening due to staffing shortages.
However, she says there should have been, and Horizon’s best practice is to have someone on call 24/7.
“What happened to this lady in terms of the delay and the care that was provided is unacceptable,” Melanson said.
“At the present time, we are reviewing our processes and protocols regarding the Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner program and working with our partners to ensure that all sexual assault victims who present to a Horizon emergency department do receive timely, and quality, and safe care. ”
She says it was inappropriate for the victim to be asked to wait until the next day for an examination.
Horizon has two-and-a-half fulltime equivalent sexual assault nurse co-ordinators, including one in the Fredericton area.
The health authority advises anyone who is a victim of a sexual assault, and would like to access an examination, to go directly to one of five emergency departments, and request a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner, known as SANE.
Those five hospitals, and the number of trained staff, include:
- dr Everett Chalmers Regional Hospital – five trained nurses
- Miramichi Regional Hospital – three trained nurses
- The Moncton Hospital – eight trained nurses
- Saint John Regional Hospital – six trained nurses
- Upper River Valley Hospital – four trained nurses
“There should always be someone available 24/7 in Fredericton. My understanding was that on this particular weekend, there was a staffing shortage, that’s what I understood occurred on this particular circumstance,” said Melanson.
“However, the expectation and our Horizon standard is that there is always a nurse available within each zone during any period of time, day or night, for this particular purpose.”
Lorraine Whalley, executive director at Sexual Violence New Brunswick, says the case shows there are gaps that still exist for victims trying to navigate the system — when time is essential.
“Our major concerns are definitely around the response time, and having someone who’s gone to an emergency being told they have to wait,” she said. “We know that best practice with responding to sexual violence, you know, time is of the essence, there are a multitude of considerations that are taken into account when it comes to sexual violence, so definitely the wait time is the biggest concern.”
While improvements have been made in counseling and therapies for victims of sexual violence and/or gender-based violence, Whalley says this case shows more resources are necessary.
“What we’ve advocated for, for years, and we’ve advocated in partnership with the Department of Health, with Women’s Equality branch, with our community partners and the Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner programs, is to have provincewide coverage and to have those adequately programmedly resourced. So that there is someone always on call, able to come in when somebody does present, who’s been sexually assaulted,” she said.
The SANE program is also offered at seven Vitalite Health Network hospitals.
Melanson said, through the review process, she is hoping to update the victim on changes and progress being made, to ensure this doesn’t happen to anyone else.
As for the criminal case, a 32-year-old man was arrested in connection with the alleged assault on Aug. 10.
“The man was released on conditions pending a future court date. No charges have been laid at this time,” said Cpl. Hans Ouellette of the New Brunswick RCMP.