Residents in Stephenville and the surrounding area who are victims of sexual assault now have a 24-7 option for compassionate, comprehensive medical care at Texas Health Harris Methodist Hospital Stephenville.

Leaders have combined the addition of a sexual assault nurse examiner with the use of a TeleSANE system to achieve around-the-clock coverage. The priority for SANE is to address the medical and emotional needs of the victim in the Emergency Department and then proceed with forensic medical-legal exams that will stand up in court.

"We are pleased to provide this service for our region," said Christopher Leu, president, Texas Health Stephenville.

Sexual assault nurse examiners are specially trained and certified to perform these exams. They are available to testify in court should the need arise.

While SANE care has been offered sporadically at the hospital since 2015, Cindy McCarthy, chief nursing officer at Texas Health Stephenville, wanted to find a way to offer 24-7 coverage. 

"This was Cindy McCarthy's idea two and a half years ago," said Kathleen Gann, director of the Texas Health System Services SANE program. 

Texas Health Stephenville also has a sexual assault nurse examiner on call four days a week.

To help supplement the on-call coverage, the team turned to technology.

Gann knew telemedicine had been in use for SANE programs at a few other U.S. hospitals.

"I have attended several national forensic nursing conferences where telemedicine for SANE programs were presented," she said. "The outcomes were intriguing, and I came away with the idea TeleSANE was possible at Texas Health for rural communities. Texas Health SANE worked closely with IT for the technology aspect and the pilot was initiated at Texas Health Stephenville." 

In a TeleSANE exam, a nurse will be guided by a sexual assault nurse examiner live on camera. 

"We do our examinations based on what the victim tells us happened. Once we listen to the history, the SANE guides the ED nurses," Gann said.

It's similar to telestroke services that have stroke specialists at larger hospitals provide guidance to rural hospital clinicians. 

"We just appreciate being able to offer that option of having TeleSANE right here in our backyard," McCarthy said. 

Without complete coverage, sexual assault victims would have to go to Fort Worth for SANE examinations, which can be a deterrent for victims as they consider whether to proceed with charges.