Here at Cheyenne Regional, we are fortunate to have a team of 7 certified forensic nurses that are part of our ‘SANE’ (Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner) program.
Chere Bohr, MA, BSN, RN, Forensic Nursing Program Manager and Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner, explained the type of population that Cheyenne Regional’s SANE program serves.
“We take care of people who have gone through different types of trauma and violence. A big focus of that is sexual violence, but we also help people who have gone through domestic violence, strangulation, elder abuse, child abuse—pretty much anything that has the direct impact of a traumatizing event on someone,” said Chere.
Forensic nursing is a field that’s relatively new to the healthcare landscape. Only within the last couple of decades has it gained traction as an imperative aspect of caring for a vulnerable population of trauma patients.
In the early 80’s, professionals in areas of both nursing and law enforcement began to realize that healthcare professionals were inadvertently obstructing justice. During healthcare interventions following traumas, assault and violence, much of the evidence was being unintentionally discarded and destroyed.
As experts started realizing the implications of the gap between health care and law enforcement in these situations, a greater focus was put on preserving the evidence during initial examinations, while specifically looking for crime-related details and injuries that may have been commonly missed in previous cases. Accurately capturing these details would assist law enforcement in effectively investigating these crimes.
In 2012, forensic nursing finally earned an official national certification and became an approved specialty, recognized by the American Nurses Credentialing Center.
“Our job is really to be that support system to stand next to people when they’re going through these situations, so they’ve got an extra level of care—so that outside of this one incidence, they know how to get healthy thereafter,” said Chere.
She added, “We let people know that they can come here, talk to us, and get cared for—but the power is really with that person. We’re going to give them their options, and then we’ll support their decisions moving forward. If a person comes in for sexual assault, for example, and they don’t want to report to law enforcement, that’s okay, as long as the person is not under the age of 18 or considered an at-risk or dependent adult. You can still receive medical care without having to report the incident to law enforcement. If you don’t want to have evidence collected, you don’t have to have it collected. You can still be seen, and we can still make sure that you’re healthy from a medical perspective.”
The support doesn’t stop at the medical examination, either. Chere’s team makes the point to ensure that patients who come to see them for these trauma-related incidents have access to a primary care provider, and that they’re connected to other community resources that can help them to bridge the gap between the situation they’re currently in, and where they want to be. Sometimes that involves directing the individual to the support of a counselor, to the resources that Safe House provides, or putting him or her in touch with advocacy groups, victims’ assistance programs, or law enforcement officials.
Chere added, “I think there’s a misconception that if you seek medical care, you have to talk to law enforcement and that you’re required to prosecute. But that’s really not the case. The main objective is to listen to the patients and to what they want to do, and then support them in being healthy.”
The positive impact of forensic nursing programs is being seen across the state and nation. Cheyenne Regional’s SANE team is working diligently to expand this unique offering to communities across Wyoming, as at this time, not all communities are fortunate enough to have nurses specifically dedicated to these efforts.
“We’ve been connecting well with a lot of other communities and helping them to establish and beef-up their skills and knowledge around these types of traumatic and/or violent situations,” said Chere.
Nichol Zimmerman, RN, another Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner on the team, stresses that this program is one that their entire team is passionate about.
“Our team really works well together. Everyone is approachable and each one of us has a passion for this type of work. Nobody is here just because it’s a job. Everyone does it because they have a passion for it—they have a love for helping these kinds of patients. It’s a specialty of its own. We’re all very giving and generous of our time. We all want to be available so that we can take care of this population of people,” said Nichol.