Sexual assault kits

There are currently no medical facilities in Ouray or Montrose counties where a sexual assault victim can provide physical evidence with the state's required evidence collection kit, pictured. Starting in March, the plan is for Montrose Memorial Hospital to begin allowing off-duty nurses to do exams with the kits at the hospital. (Photo by Tanya Ishikawa/The Watch)

Sexual assault survivors from Ouray and Montrose counties soon will have more access to exams to provide physical evidence for use in court cases. The nearest exam locations were the San Miguel Resource Center in Telluride and hospitals in Grand Junction up until September 2019. That month, two additional nurses started doing exams at the Delta County Memorial Hospital, and four more nurses are planning to start performing exams at the Montrose Memorial Hospital in March.

Local options for the exams were lacking due to medical facilities not having properly trained staff. In Colorado, registered nurses or providers who have taken a 64-hour online course and two-day clinical practice in Colorado Springs are qualified as Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners (SANE) to conduct the exams with the mandated evidence collection kits.

“It has taken a lot of collaboration and discussion to ensure that the new process meets the needs and mandates of all partnering agencies,” said Michelle Gottlieb, executive director of Dolphin House, the child advocacy center for the 7th Judicial District, which includes San Miguel, Ouray, Montrose, Hinsdale, Gunnison and Delta counties.

“The victims exist, but trained professionals don’t always exist,” Gottlieb added. “Rural areas are always going to be hard due to limited resources and limited funds, but the initiative our people bring into it here is often greater than in urban areas. We may lack resources, but we do not lack passion.”

Up until a few years ago, SANE exams were conducted by a midwife group at the Montrose hospital. When they moved out of the hospital, the facility was left without trained nurses.

“We finished up the four nurses training in October (2019), but still had to finish building the rest of the program, which includes working with local law enforcement, working with the Dolphin House, as well as finishing up internal processes to make sure our victims receive the care they deserve,” said Courtney Cryer, director of the hospital’s family center.

After a sexual assault incident, victims in Montrose and Ouray counties can call 1-844-990-5500, the 24-hour crisis line at Latimer House, the Grand Junction nonprofit that runs Hilltop Community Resources in Montrose. Victims in San Miguel County can call 1-844-816-3915, the 24-hour line at the San Miguel Resource Center.

If victims want to report the crime to law enforcement, they can call their local sheriff or police departments, or they can report to the emergency departments at the hospitals or the Telluride Regional Medical Center.

Until last September, most Ouray and Montrose county victims had to make the trip to Grand Junction if they wanted an exam. Victims advocates and law enforcement officers could transport them if requested and available. Now, they can go to the hospital in Delta, and to the hospital in Montrose as of March 1, if plans are finalized.

Victims that report to emergency rooms are seen by ER personnel to ensure any necessary medical treatment is provided before the sexual assault exam. Plus, the hospital will contact a SANE/Sexual Assault Forensic Examiner.

The exams, which can take several hours, are not conducted by on-duty nurses at Delta or Montrose. The trained nurses are on-call to do the exams when off-duty, and will be compensated for each exam by Dolphin House.

Cryer explained the reason for using off-duty nurses is “we want to have a nurse who is available to spend the much needed one-on-one time with the victim. In addition, having an on-duty nurse perform a SANE exam would pull that nurse away from other patients needing care. This way, we are ensuring all our friends and family receive the best care possible.”

Danielle Recchia, a registered nurse, has been the SANE/SART (Sexual Assault Response Team) coordinator for the Dolphin House since March 2019, and helping manage local efforts.

Recchia said the nurse examiners “like to respond within the hour of a call and to start the coordination of an exam. Ideally, individuals would not have to wait long for an exam. This may not always be the case because the ER may be full at that time. In a perfect world, there will always be a nurse available; however, we do not live in a perfect world. Resources may not be available to meet the capacity at all times.

“Ten to 12 exams were conducted each year in the past in Montrose, but I see that number increasing significantly, due to increased trust in reporting as well as the increasing population. I hope more people will report. Having the resources and support locally will help.”