Forensic nurse shortage means Virginia sex assault victims travel hours for exams

Published: Oct. 16, 2019 at 9:17 PM EDT
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A new study says sex assault victims in Virginia must sometimes travel for hours because of a shortage of qualified nurses and hospitals that provide sexual assault examinations.

"We're nurses and then we're also trained to collect evidence," said Renee Pullen, a Forensic Nurse Coordinator at Augusta Health. "We take care of the patient from the time they arrive until the time that they are discharged."

The study’s author, Stephen Weiss, saId that finding helps explain why less than half of such victims report attacks.

"There are patients who are in other parts of Virginia, who go to a hospital and they say 'we don't have anybody," Pullen said. "During that time, they're already traumatized, and then they have to drive and find somewhere else and they begin to lose hope."

The Richmond Times-Dispatch reports the study was conducted at the direction of the Virginia General Assembly Joint Commission on Health Care. It was presented to the commission last month, and the author is scheduled to brief the Virginia State Crime Commission on Tuesday.

The report found that of the nearly 100,000 registered nurses in Virginia, fewer than 200 are credentialed forensic nurses. It also found that out of 122 licensed hospitals, 16 provide the sexual assault forensic examinations necessary to collect crucial evidence.

Augusta Health is one of those 16 hospitals, and Pullen believes the shortage could come from the lengthy process to get qualified.

"The clinical portion takes 6 months to a year before you have a nurse ready to do exams," Pullen said. "Even for nurses who think they may be interested, it takes a commitment."