Sexual assault victims in rural areas now have more help in their corner.
Texas Health Resources has placed special forensic nurses as part of its sexual assault nurse examiners program, or SANE program, at several of its rural hospitals.
The SANE launch at Texas Health Azle is part of region-wide expansion effort.
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Texas Health Resources also has expanded its SANE Program services at Texas Health Alliance, Texas Health Arlington Memorial, Texas Health Cleburne, Texas Health Texas Health Denton, Texas Health HEB and Texas Health Kaufman.
The forensic nurses' job is to collect evidence for police but also provide comfort during a victim's most difficult time.
"After we find out their bodies are OK, then we do start the evidence collection part," said Cindy Burnett, a sexual assault nurse examiner, the first ever at Texas Health Azle.
Nurses in the SANE program are trained for crisis intervention, emotional support, health treatment and forensic evidence collection.
"What's happening in many hospitals is that they meet those medical needs, but they don't have the specialized treatment of people that have been trained for SANE," said Burnett.
Up until now, sexual assault victims had to drive to bigger hospitals for a forensic examination.
Program directros said when victims of sexual assault have to be transferred, they often times do not follow through with the sexual assault forensic exam.
It also created challenges for police investigating the crime.
Azle Police Chief Rick Pippins is excited to have a SANE program nurse at the community hospital.
"They've been trained and educated on how to locate to collect and preserve this evidence for us and to do so in a very timely fashion and that can sometimes make all the difference in the world," said Pippins.
Since expanding the SANE program to rural hospitals last fall, the forensic nurses have already treated 19 sexual assault victims.
Burnett was called into action her first official night of the job.
"We want to give that empowerment back to them because they've had that taken away from them during the assault," said Burnett.
Nurses in the SANE program also work with prosecutors and testify in court on the behalf of victims.
The expansion is thanks to three large donations in 2017: the W.W. Caruth Jr. Foundation at Communities Foundation of Texas donated $3.5 million, The Moody Foundation donated $1.5 million and an anonymous donor donated $1.5 million to enable the Texas Health SANE Program expansion.