State Legislature must revisit Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner law

Hospitals are many things. Beyond the image of a place where ill or injured patients receive skilled nursing care, hospitals often must take on other missions. Our July 25 story (Jail struggles to house mentally ill) depicted the challenge of mentally ill people who are arrested by the police. Those same people sometimes enter hospital emergency rooms. On Wednesday, Chelsea Gorrow explored the challenge rural hospitals face in conducting examinations following rapes.

Our newspaper’s interest in this issue emerged from the July 20 alleged rape of a 10-year-old girl. Because Columbia Memorial Hospital did not have a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner with the proper certification, the young victim, her mother and her younger sibling were driven to Portland for the exam.

Astoria Police Chief Pete Curzon described what’s wrong with that picture. “It’s unacceptable and something that we shouldn’t have to put the victim through,” said Curzon.

As Gorrow explained, the SANE nurse certification emerged from a commission established by former Oregon Attorney General Hardy Myers. What the SANE process failed to accommodate is rural areas. Gorrow’s interviews with law enforcement officials in Eastern Oregon revealed a situation similar to Clatsop County’s. Victims must be transported to hospitals that are hours away.

The most devastating development in Gorrow’s story was a Clatsop County rape case that could not be prosecuted, because the victim did not want to travel to Portland for an examination by a SANE nurse.

With a new legislative session on the horizon, it is timely for lawmakers such as state Sen. Betsy Johnson of our county and Sen. Bill Hansell of Umatilla County to lead the way in a discussion of how to make SANE nursing more prevalent in rural Oregon hospitals.

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