Aspirus Rhinelander Hospital launches care, treatment program for victims of sexual assault

For the Tomahawk Leader 

RHINELANDER – A program providing care and treatment for victims of sexual assault is now available at Aspirus Rhinelander Hospital.

“The Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS) reports that about 1.2 million Wisconsin adults have experienced sexual violence in their lifetime – that’s about one out of three adult women and almost one out of every five adult men,” Aspirus Health stated in a release.

 Aspirus said the experience of sexual assault is “deeply devastating for patients and their loved ones.”

“To help begin the healing process, the nurses of the Aspirus SANE Program provide compassionate care and treatment to patients who have been assaulted,” Aspirus stated.

Aspirus Rhinelander Hospital now offers direct local access to a SANE program in its Emergency Department (ED).

“SANE stands for Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner, which is interchangeable with FNE or Forensic Nurse Examiner,” said Terra Schmoeger, Manager, Aspirus Rhinelander Hospital Emergency Department. “At Aspirus, we have a team of nurses with specialized training to perform medical and forensic examination for adolescents and adults who have been sexually assaulted or strangled.”

What happens during the exam

Aspirus said its SANE exams can be done up to 120 hours, or five days, after an assault.

“When patients report to an Aspirus ED where services are available, they are brought to a dedicated safe and private environment where the exam will take place,” Aspirus explained. “With permission, the nurse will ask the patient about the assault, perform a physical exam, complete an evidence collection kit, offer risk assessment for pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and coordinate care with a sexual assault advocate. Patients will be offered and provided a sexual assault/domestic violence advocate from our Tri County Council, who will provide resources and service as an advocate for the patient for entirety of the exam.”

“Our exams encompass trauma-informed care,” said Lacy Santilli, RN, SANE Program, Aspirus Rhinelander Hospital. “A patient has been through a traumatic event, and therefore we give them their autonomy back during this exam and allow them the opportunity to make choices for themselves. Some of the choices they can make are about what services they want us to provide for them and then setting a pace that they’re comfortable with.”

Santilli. Photo courtesy of Aspirus.

The value of care

Aspirus said care is important, whether a patient chooses to report the assault to law enforcement or not.

“If the patient wishes to report, the SANE nurse will help,” Aspirus stated. “Nurses are mandated to report sexual assaults of patients under 18 years old.”

If the patient is over 18 and unsure if they want to report the assault, the evidence collected during the exam will go into a kit that will be shipped directly to the Wisconsin State Crime Lab, where Schmoeger said it will be held for up to ten years for them to decide if they would like to report or not.

If the patient would like to track their kit through the chain of custody from law enforcement to the crime lab, the nurse can provide information.

Aspirus said its SANE Programs have expanded across its system, with services currently now available at seven Aspirus hospitals. If an individual has experienced sexual assault, they can go to one of the locations listed or to their nearest ED to get set up with arrangements to travel to the nearest hospital that performs forensic exams.

Schmoeger added that if a survivor is seeking care where SANE services aren’t available, “patients can still get the preventative care they need such as emergency contraception, as well as protection against STIs and HIV.”

“These are available at any ED,” Schmoeger stated.

Support for survivors of sexual assault is available. To contact Aspirus SANE in your area, call:

  • Aspirus Ironwood Hospital: 906-932-2525
  • Aspirus Medford Hospital: 715-748-8100
  • Aspirus Rhinelander Hospital: 715-361-2000
  • Aspirus Riverview Hospital: 715-423-6060
  • Aspirus Stevens Point Hospital: 715-346-5000
  • Aspirus Wausau Hospital: 715-847-2121
  • Howard Young Medical Center: 715-356-8000

To speak with someone anonymously, the following 24/7 free confidential hotlines are available:

  • Tri County Council advocacy: 1-800-236-1222
  • RAINN: 1-800-799-SAFE (7233)
  • Women’s Community Sexual Assault Victim Services: 715-842-7323 or 1-888-665-1234

“We are proud to add this important program in Rhinelander which excels in providing highly specialized clinical care in concert with the compassion needed under difficult circumstances,” said Teri Theiler, Aspirus North WI Division President.

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