POSTED: Tuesday, August 13, 2013 - 10:33am
UPDATED: Tuesday, August 13, 2013 - 10:44am
AUSTIN, Texas — Victims of sexual assault will no longer have to travel to potentially far-off hospitals to have forensic evidence collected, following the implementation of a new law this fall.
Starting Sept. 1, all Texas hospitals with emergency rooms will be required to have staff trained in at least basic collection of forensic evidence from sexual assault victims.
Currently, communities in Texas are required to have one facility designated as the primary care center for victims of sexual assault. If the victims go to a hospital that lacks the designation, they are stabilized but would have to go to the primary center for evidence to be collected. Now, all emergency room hospitals will have to offer to collect such evidence.
The primary care center designation stems from a 2005 law that required communities in the state to devise plans for law enforcement, health care providers and sexual assault victims' advocates to respond to sexual assault cases.
Under Senate Bill 1191, any hospital with an emergency room must have physicians and nurses trained in a basic level of forensic evidence collection — a standard still less rigorous than that required for the Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners that most primary care centers have. The hospitals will also be required to give patients the option of a transfer to the primary care center after they have been medically stabilized.
Requiring all hospitals to have a SANE program — which are found mostly in primary care centers — would be impractically expensive, said Jennifer Banda, the Texas Hospital Association’s vice president of advocacy, public policy and HOSPAC, the political action committee the association operates. SANE certification is costly, and currently, there are not enough certified personnel in the state for every hospital to have a SANE program, she said.
Currently, 312 sexual assault nurse examiners are certified in the state, according to the Texas attorney general’s office, which runs that program and certifies the nurse examiners. (A map under this story shows where those nurse examiners are located in Texas.)
Although primary care centers will remain the best option for survivors, they are often not a viable one, said Torie Camp, deputy director at the Texas Association Against Sexual Assault. Camp cited distance, family and professional obligations, and travel costs as reasons victims might not go to a second hospital after being stabilized.
“At least they’re going to have their evidence collected with someone with some level of training” under SB 1191, she said, adding that it “may not be the best standard of care, but it’s going to get the job done.”