ANCHORAGE — The Providence health system plans to restart nighttime sexual assault exams in Anchorage after identifying a temporary solution to a staffing shortage.
Officials had stopped providing around-the-clock exams in October because of a lack of specially trained nurses. A program manager told the Anchorage Daily News on Friday that the 24-hour exams will resume on Nov. 16 after Providence Alaska Medical Center found a temporary fix to the staffing situation.
Two more nurses who work at the hospital will provide care to victims. By February, Providence is aiming to have additional nurses on board and the program fully staffed.
Prosecutors and advocates say delays in exams can mean lost evidence. It can also mean more trauma for victims, who may be told not to shower, change clothes or eat or drink.
Jennifer Meyer, clinical nurse manager for Forensic Nursing Services of Providence, said the forensic nursing program used to operate with 16 nurses but that it has gradually shrunk to just eight, which wasn’t enough.
Meyer said trainings for sexual assault nurse examiners in Alaska can draw 30 to 40 participants twice a year. But once they learn what the job entails, most don’t sign up, Meyer said.
“It’s difficult work. It’s not work that just anybody can do,” she said.
Meyer said most of the examiners also work regular nursing shifts but commit to one on-call shift a week to perform exams as part of a team that includes advocates and police. 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 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.