ANCHORAGE — Nighttime sexual assault exams are no longer being conducted in Anchorage by the Providence health system, which says it has a shortage of specially trained nurses it is working to resolve.
The change that began Oct. 1 has sparked concerns among those who work with sexual assault victims.
Prosecutors and advocates say delays can mean lost evidence. Delays also could mean more trauma for victims who may be told not to shower, change clothes or eat or drink. The message is the wrong one, said John Skidmore, who oversees prosecutors in the state as director of the criminal division of Alaska Department of Law.
"Jeez, you're raped in the middle of the night," he said. Well, sorry, we don't have anyone available but if you could just do us a favor and not shower, don't change your clothes, stay in that condition for the next X number of hours, we'll be happy to see you just as soon as we can in the morning."
Specialized nurses are being recruited, with two new hires starting next month, according to Jennifer Meyer, clinical nurse manager for Forensic Nursing Services of Providence. Providence hopes the problem will be resolved by Feb. 1, if not sooner, Meyer said.
The shortage dates back at least a year, she said. An attempt to fill the need with a smaller crew proved too much of a strain.
"The decision to temporarily close overnight service was a difficult one and was postponed as we recruited for open positions and used alternate staffing solutions," Meyer said. "Ultimately, these solutions were not sustainable."
Anchorage, like other Alaska communities, has committed to a sexual assault response team that involves an advocate, law-enforcement and a nurse.
Providence has provided the nurse exams since 2008, and has an annual forensic nursing budget of $700,000. The funding comes from Providence Alaska Medical Center, the municipality of Anchorage and Anchorage-based Southcentral Foundation, the health-care nonprofit of regional Alaska Native corporation, Cook Inlet Region Inc.