$325K grant will aid new sexual assault medical program

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KNIGHTSTOWN — As a nurse practitioner at the Knightstown Health Care Center, Donna Timblin’s heart breaks whenever a sexual assault victim has to travel to Anderson or Richmond for a medical assessment due to a lack of local services.

But that’s about to change.

The Knightstown clicnic is developing a sexual abuse assessment program that will serve Hancock and Henry counties, where such services are currently unavailable.

The Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners program, or SANE, is being funded by a $325,000 grant from the Indiana State Department of Health’s Office of Women’s Health.

Twelve nurses will start the training in March, with the goal of launching the program in June.

Susie Neely, who oversees the Knightstown clinic, said a proper assessment plays a huge role in prosecuting those charged with sexual assault.

“If the examination isn’t done correctly, then it can be thrown out in court,” she said.

Careful protocol must be followed both during and after the exam to assure it will hold up in court, including not letting the evidence leave the presence of the examiner until it’s handed off to law enforcement, who transport it to the state’s evidence lab.

The last thing healthcare providers want to do is jeopardize a victim’s chance in court, she said, or make the exam any more challenging than it needs to be.

Making the exams available in Hancock and Henry counties will be a great step toward supporting victims of sexual assault, many of whom now have to drive as far as Anderson and Richmond to have exams done.

“Now when you’re sexually abused you go to one of our hospitals and we treat you, but then we send you to another hospital (for an official exam), so you have to go through it twice. That’s really difficult for victims,” Timblin said.

Neely said prosecutors in both Hancock and Henry counties have said the number of sexual assault cases happening within those counties may be underreported due the fact that sexual assault exams aren’t available locally.

She credits both prosecutor’s offices with providing the necessary support and information to win the grant.

“We’ll probably eventually try to work with Rush County and get them involved as well,” she said.

Neely, chief clinic officer at Hancock Physician Network, said the grant must be spent between Jan. 1, 2022 and May 31, 2023. That means additional funding sources will need to be secured to assure the program continues in perpetuity, she said.

“It takes a lot to sustain this. We have to have nurses on call 24/7,” said Timblin, who saw a number of sexual assault patients who were helped by the program when she was a nurse in Indianapolis.

“There’s just such a huge need,” she said.

The SANE program not only provides assault victims with an exam, but also offers follow-up care like connecting patients with food pantries or psychological services.

Neely is thankful that the SANE services will soon be offered in Hancock County, eliminating the need to send patients elsewhere.

“Honestly if it’s only one person we can save from being sent out of the county, it’s worth it,” she said.