It is hard to imagine that you or someone you know could go through an experience that would require the services of a sexual assault nurse examiner (SANE), but knowing the first steps to take after you or a loved one is a victim of rape or domestic violence is vital. The nurses involved with the SANE program are certified to provide rape and domestic violence exams to patients who have been assaulted. Hillcrest is the only health system in Tulsa County that offers this program. The SANE program at Hillcrest Medical Center was established in 1991 and is available 24 hours a day every day of the week for patients in need.
Theresa Valento (pictured) was a SANE nurse from the time it was introduced at Hillcrest Medical Center in 1991. In a previous interview with us from 2016, she shared about the program.
“This program was started because victims would sit in an emergency room for hours waiting to be seen, but evidence is lost every hour you wait to be examined,” says Valento. “Emergency room doctors did not have time for examinations that would tie them up for hours, nor did they want to attend trial if the victim’s case led to that.”
Thus, the SANE program was introduced to the Tulsa community and now has 14 trained SANE nurses who have gone through the certification. Valento shared the importance of knowing the wide range of patients they are certified to exam. “We are trained to see patients as young as infants to 90 years of age and we also see males. The general view of these cases is that it only happens to females, but we examine males and patients of all ages as well.”
Dorothy Patrock, another SANE nurse who also helped start the SANE program at Hillcrest Medical Center, shares the importance of how they care for the patients. “We want the patient to always feel safe,” says Patrock. “The exams can feel like part of the trauma of sexual assault, but our hope is that we can begin the step of healing when they come to us.” When a victim or their loved ones are seeking help, they can call the police, visit an emergency room or call DVIS (Domestic Violence Intervention Services). However, if a patient decides to go to the hospital, the police and hospital emergency departments always call DVIS first. A DVIS advocate then guides the victim through the necessary steps and contacts a SANE nurse. A SANE nurse then performs an exam, always with a DVIS hospital advocate or volunteer present. “When a patient comes in for an examination, we do not force them to do anything they do not want to do, we care for them and want them to feel empowered,” says Patrock. Once the examination is complete, there is a packet given to every patient with resources for counseling, follow-up testing and appointments. The patient can follow-up with their primary care provider, OB/GYN, or the SANE program provides follow-up testing at the Tulsa Health Department.
Patrock also shares that most of the patients she examines are convinced by a friend or family member to call and receive help. “This is why it is so important for everyone to be aware of where to go, who to call and what services are available for yourself or someone you know,” says Patrock. “This can happen to anyone, and the assaulter makes it an issue of control and power. Caring for patients and making them feel safe keeps me going back. I know I’m making a difference.”
If you or a loved one has been sexually assaulted, visit Hillcrest Medical Center or call DVIS at 918-743-5763.