SPECIAL REPORT: Shortage of sexual assault nurses in Odessa, Part 2

SPECIAL REPORT: Shortage of sexual assault nurses in Odessa, Part 2

ODESSA, TX (KWES) - A shortage of sexual assault nurses in Odessa has caused some issues for law enforcement. Sometimes a victim has to be transported to Midland for care but Medical Center Hospital is working on the issue.

Being a sexual assault nurse examiner (SANE) isn't easy.

"Whenever you start your classroom training. It really kind of puts it in perspective, the weight of everything," said Lisa Montoya, charge nurse and sexual assault nurse trainee.

"It's always hard seeing the little kids come in when somethings happened to them," said Bianca Barrientos, ER nurse and SANE trainee.

Many times the nurse witnesses just as much or more than what the officer does who responded to the call.

"From newborns up to the elderly, we have done exams on people that have already passed away, as well as those that are alive," said Christin Timmons, MCHS associate chief nursing officer.

Sexual assault nurses are trained to provide comprehensive care. It takes about a year and a half or more to complete the extensive process.

"We have to do courtroom hours, we have to do classroom training. We have to follow a pediatrician. We have to follow someone who works with women's health and we also have to do SANE exams," said Barrientos.

It is about treating a victims wounds, but the nurse is also there to collect forensic evidence and if the case goes to trial, the nurse serves as an expert witness to the crime.

"We make sure that we cross every 'T' and dot every 'I' to make sure that we get what we need because it could all come down to that one piece of evidence," said Timmons.

The position holds a lot of weight and responsibility, which could be the reason why some decide they can't handle the pressure.

"You take that in, so it's difficult to hear those stories over and over again. So, I think some of it, is sort of burn out because it takes such an emotional toll on you and it's just a demanding position," said Karen Hildebrand, Executive Director of the Odessa Crisis Center.

"We are taking on other people's struggles. This is the toughest thing that someone might go through and so we are hearing those histories from the patients. We are taking care of them physically and emotionally and providing them with at least one piece of closure in order for them to start the process to move on," said Timmons.

Medical Center Hospital conducts about 10 to 12 sexual assault exams a month. Right now, that load currently falls on their one nurse who can perform the kit.

"Just that emotional stress, not having someone else to kind of relieve you," Timmons added. "She does take days off, so she's not just on call 7-days a week, but she does her best to provide that service and then of course we get the support of Midland at this point."

The stress of being a sexual assault nurse can be difficult to deal with. Those in the medical field are bound by Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), which means they can't talk about the cases they deal with.

"The SANE nurse has to have that home support, knowing that they have the support to be gone those long hours and to come home upset, maybe quiet for a little while, to cry without having to give a reason," said Timmons.

Timmons says MCH is aiming to create a group of sexual assault nurses who can support each other on the tough days.

"It can get hard here with all our traumas and things like that we see on a daily basis. We help relieve that, just by talking," said Barrientos. "It can help a lot. So pretty much they explained the same way, 'this is how you're going to get through it. Talking with your other peers.' "

Despite knowing the challenges they will face, Montoya and Barrientos say their goal is to do what most nurses enjoy doing.

"I just wanted to be able to be there. Most people that go into nursing want to be there and want to help patients, you know, in their time of need," said Montoya.

"Holding the hand that they need. Just what we do as a regular nurse, when we are there when patients are really scared, that's what we are here for and I think that's the best part," said Barrientos.

Midland Memorial Hospital currently has five SANE nurses.

MCH hopes to have just as many by the end of the year after their nurses finish training, but ideally, they aim to have seven to ten on staff.

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