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Staffing issues still affecting care for sex, domestic assault victims in Winnipeg: nurse – Winnipeg

Staff shortages are still forcing survivors of sexual assault and abuse — including children — to leave without a forensic exam at Winnipeg’s Health Sciences Centre more than a month after the nurses union raised alarms about the issue, according to a nurse working at the hospital.

In late January, the Manitoba Nurses Union said some survivors of sexual assault were being told not to shower or wipe themselves after using the washroom and to come back to Health Sciences Centre when a trained nurse with the Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) program was available.

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Katie Stark, a forensic nurse examiner working with the program, says staffing problems have not improved despite assurances from government and health officials made after last month’s media attention.

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She points to a nearly 46-hour stretch between Tuesday and Thursday last week when no nurses were available to do forensic exams and collect evidence.


Click to play video: 'Dozens turned away after sex, domestic assaults in Winnipeg, jeopardizing criminal cases: nurses'


Dozens turned away after sex, domestic assaults in Winnipeg, jeopardizing criminal cases: nurses


“A pediatric patient came in and I knew there was no nurse on, and the nursing staff were like, ‘What are we going to do? There’s no one to see this patient’ I said I’m not sure what we can do. There’s no direction, there’s no guidelines,’” Stark, who has worked casual shifts for SANE since 2011, said Tuesday.

Stark says she doesn’t know if the patient, a little girl, got help that day.

She says knowing the program may be left unstaffed for hours after a working a shift makes going home difficult for her and her colleagues.

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“Even though it’s the end of of my shift, I care too much about patients to leave somebody waiting and not being seen,” she said.

Stark says there were 21 shifts left either completely vacant or with only partial coverage in February.

Shared Health said data is still being collected for February and couldn’t say whether or not there had been any gaps in SANE service this month.


Click to play video: 'Shared Health responds to staffing crisis in sexual assault victim program'


Shared Health responds to staffing crisis in sexual assault victim program


The health authority declined an interview request but, in an emailed statement, said seven patients waited and “had their exams completed within hours of their presentation” this month while three left without being seen.

The ongoing staffing issues comes despite an announcement timed to mark Sexual Assault Awareness Month last April that saw Manitoba Health Minister Audrey Gordon announce $640,000 in funding to hire full-time forensic nurse examiners, including a provincial coordinator.

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Global News also reached out to the health minister’s office, who declined an interview.

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Shared Health said as of Tuesday, six of the seven nurse examiner positions have been filled, but it can take up to six months to finish training.

A manager hired earlier this month also began overseeing the program Tuesday, Shared Health said.

Stark says she and her colleagues currently working on-call were ready to continue their work full-time, which could have helped fill the empty shifts but due to the type of positions the new program offered, some were not interviewed, despite already having the training.

She says she has reached out to her employer and government to address her concerns, but so far, she hasn’t felt heard.


Click to play video: 'Concern over staffing for sexual assault program at HSC'


Concern over staffing for sexual assault program at HSC


Ultimately, Stark would like to see the program have its own clinic, with services better accessible in rural and northern areas.

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Until then, she’ll continue to work overtime to see as many patients are cared for as possible.

“Often … you just stay, you see them and you just continue to work seeing patients and just keep going,” she said.

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“I don’t know how to sleep at night knowing that someone came for care and I decided to to go home.”

If you have been a victim of sexual assault and need support, you can call Klinic’s Sexual Assault Crisis line toll free at 1-888-292-7565.

The phone lines are open 24/7.

— with files from Iris Dyck


Click to play video: 'Nurse speaks out over staffing crisis in program helping sexual assault victims'


Nurse speaks out over staffing crisis in program helping sexual assault victims


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