CVPH SANE Program Marks 22 Years - RNs care for victims of sexual violence, assistwith evidence collection

CVPH SANE Program Marks 22 Years
RNs care for victims of sexual violence, assist with evidence collection

PLATTSBURGH, NY (06/26/2019) -- One of the first Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) programs in New York State, the University of Vermont Health Network – Champlain Valley Physicians Hospital (CVPH) service is marking 22 years of providing comprehensive care to patients who have been sexually assaulted.

CVPH’s SANE program began in 1997 with 4 nurses. Today, the team of 8 registered nurses offer specialized medical care and emotional support to victims of sexual violence as well assist in the collection of information and evidence from the crime.  The service is provided 365 days a year, 24 hours a day and seven days a week.

“Our community owes a debt of gratitude to the dedicated SANE nurses who provide vital services to victims of sexual violence. The North Country is extremely fortunate to have these nurses who devote their time and expertise in providing the medical attention, documentation, and evidence collection that is so desperately needed by victims of sexual assault crimes.  I’m especially grateful, as a prosecutor, because I know that not every hospital supports or offers these skilled services and I can’t imagine having to prosecute these cases without their assistance,” said Clinton County Assistant District Attorney Domenica Padula.

A deep seated commitment to helping victims of sexual assault is the primary driver behind the program. “It’s the right thing to do for our community,” explained Gail Bjelko, SANE, RN. With 35 years of nursing experience, she became SANE certified in 2003 and has seen the difference the SANE program has made for those in our community who are victims of sexual assault.

Bjelko explained that before the SANE program was established in New York State, evidence was collected by a physician. “Nurses assisted by sealing envelopes, cataloging the evidence and attending to the patient’s needs,” she said.  But ERs are designed to care for the sickest patients first and there were times when patients who presented after an assault would wait while the physician attended to another patient with more life threatening health concerns. “Having a nurse who can take the time to be there for the patient and be skilled in collecting evidence is what’s best for the patient,” she explained.

For Gina Carbino, RN, being a SANE nurse is in keeping with her commitment to helping others.  “I help people on the worst day of their life and make my community a safer place to live,” she said. Her fellow SANE nurse Elizabeth Craigmyle, RN added, “It’s the merging of science and caring. Being a forensic nurse is a privilege that allows me to provide compassionate care to victims of abuse, violent crime or neglect all while gathering evidence to support law enforcement. SANEs play a vital role in both our health care and criminal justice systems. We also offer community education aimed at dispelling the stereotypes surrounding sexual assault.”  Kelly McDonough, RN, one of the first CVPH SANE nurses added, “I became a SANE nurse to help survivors have a voice.”

In 2017, there were 66 reported sexual assaults in Clinton County, 34 in Essex County and 57 in Franklin County. Carbino pointed out that these numbers only reflect the number assaults reported to law enforcement. “The number of patients we see is higher as many victims choose to get medical care but not report the assault to law enforcement,” she said.  CVPH provides care for the people in Clinton, Franklin and Essex counties which includes students from several colleges.

Padula said she sees the CVPH SANE nurses as true assets to her efforts in prosecuting sexual assault cases. “Our local SANE nurses have made the difference in countless cases in Clinton County. Their work has been instrumental in holding perpetrators of sexual violence accountable for their actions and ensuring justice for the survivors of those attacks,” she said.

To become a SANE, registered nurses must complete a rigorous course that includes classroom time and clinical experience. Each CVPH SANE nurse has completed a 40 hour course and 16 hours of clinical time and has also worked side by side with another certified SANE nurse. “Our SANE nurses complete hours of training and education. Working with Northern Adirondack Planned Parenthood, they also get practical experience,” explained Bjelko. Next the registered nurses partner with a certified SANE nurse to observe and then later, care for a patient with a certified colleague at their side.

An exam room in the CVPH Emergency Care Center is designed specifically for the special needs of sexual assault patients and is equipped with all of the items needed for evidence collection. “The exam room is tucked away from the main ER to provide patients with additional privacy,” Carbino explained. Equipment used to document and record the examination is installed in the room as well as medical supplies needed to care for the patient.  Information about support agencies is also readily available for the team to share.

When appropriate and with the patient’s permission, rape crisis counselors from Planned Parenthood are also contacted. “I tell my patients that they can help them through the legal process while my role is to help collect evidence and provide care while they are here,” Bjelko said.

In 2017 the program received a grant from the Foundation of CVPH to the fund the purchase of clothing for patients. Bjelko explained that as part of evidence collection, all of the patient’s clothes are often taken for forensic examination. “With the grant we were able to purchase some sweats, t-shirts and other clothing that patients can wear home. We also have shampoos, soaps and other toiletries that they can use too,” she said.

“There are around 276 SANE programs in this country so having a team like ours here is a tremendous asset for our community,” explained CVPH Chief Nursing Officer Carrie Howard Canning.


About Champlain Valley Physicians Hospital
The University of Vermont Health Network - Champlain Valley Physicians Hospital (CVPH) is a private, not-for profit hospital in Plattsburgh, NY.  Established in 1967 with the merger of Champlain Valley and Physicians Hospitals, CVPH joined Fletcher Allen Partners in 2012, which in 2014 became The University of Vermont Health Network.  Together with its partner hospitals, the UVM Medical Group and a home health agency, CVPH provides high quality, cost effective care, close to home. Services include an award winning cardiac services program, accredited cancer center, freestanding ambulatory surgery center, comprehensive rehabilitation services and a 24 hour physician-staffed Emergency Department.  Governed by a 15-member Board of Directors, CVPH is accredited by the Joint Commission and licensed by New York State and Medicare/Medicaid Approved.  Learn more at UVMHealth.org/CVPH or follow us on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and YouTube.


About The University of Vermont Health Network
The University of Vermont Health Network is an integrated system serving the residents of Vermont and northern New York with a shared mission: working together, we improve people’s lives.  The partners are:


Our 4,000 health care professionals are driven to provide high-quality, cost-efficient care as close to home as possible. Strengthened by our academic connection to the University of Vermont, each of our affiliates remains committed to its local community by providing compassionate, personal care shaped by the latest medical advances and delivered by highly skilled experts.

Caption: There are 8 certified Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners (SANE) nurses at the University of Vermont Health Network – Champlain Valley Physicians Hospital (CVPH) who offer specialized medical care and emotional support to victims of sexual violence as well assist in the collection of information and evidence from the crime. One of the first SANE programs in New York State, the CVPH team is marking 22 years of providing comprehensive care to victims of sexual assault.  Pictured from left are CVPH SANE Nurses Elizabeth Craigmyle, RN,  Corrine Kerley, RN, Gail Bjelko, RN, Samatha McCandless, RN, Jiselle Annette, RN,  Gina Carbino, RN and Gayle Simmons-Byer, RN.  Not pictured is Kelly McDonough, RN, one of the first CVPH nurses to become certified.